Military urges service members to avoid eating poppy seeds

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

Drop that muffin!

Poppy seeds may give confections and cuisines such as bagels, rolls, cakes and casseroles that little something extra, but they could leave a bad taste in the mouths of those who suffer an unexpected consequence of poppy seed ingestion.

The tiny seeds are causing a big headache for the Department of Defense. Earlier this year, the DOD issued a memorandum warning service members that the consumption of poppy seed products could result in a codeine positive urinalysis result, as recent data suggests that certain poppy seed varieties may have higher codeine contamination than formerly believed.

DOD officials consider substance misuse by service members a safety and readiness issue, and they have expressed concern that positive tests due to poppy seed consumption undermine the ability of the department to identify illicit drug use.

“Out of an abundance of caution, I find protecting Service members and the integrity of the drug testing program requires a warning to avoid poppy seeds,” Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr., undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, wrote in the memorandum.

The memorandum further stated that military departments are directed to notify service members to avoid consumption of all poppy seeds to include food products and baked goods containing such seeds.

“Previous studies indicated that eating an extreme quantity of poppy seeds could result in a positive urinalysis. That data showed a correlation between the amount of codeine and morphine in the urine of individuals after the body has metabolized contaminated poppy seeds,” said Capt. Michael Moline, Arnold Engineering Development Complex deputy staff judge advocate at Arnold Air Force Base. “The new studies have found that contaminated poppy seeds are coming from new varieties of the poppy plant, which is shown through a codeine-positive urinalysis with little to no morphine.”

Poppy seeds are naturally sourced from the poppy plant, a commercial crop cultivated by the food and pharmaceutical industries. Both codeine and morphine are derived from the opium latex that is produced by the plant known as Papaver somniferum, or the opium poppy, which also produces poppy seeds. Seeds may be contaminated with morphine and codeine from the latex during the harvesting process.

“The poppy seed itself has no intoxicating effect,” Moline said. “When the plant is harvested, trace amounts of the codeine can be deposited on the seed. The contamination level varies depending on the harvesting and washing procedures of the individual poppy seed producers. Each producer has its own procedures, thus making avoidance of poppy seeds as a whole the recommended course of action rather than avoiding a specific company’s product.”

Pharmaceutical grade codeine and morphine can appear at significantly greater levels in urinalysis tests, but the small amount of codeine present on a contaminated poppy seed is still detectable during a urinalysis, Moline said. However, newly-developed strains currently being cultivated are resulting in higher levels of codeine than had been previously reported.

The DOD utilizes drug testing cutoffs as one way to distinguish morphine and codeine use from poppy seed ingestion. Due to recent developments, the department could explore alterations to the codeine cutoff amount.

“One of the considerations is to raise the current DOD cutoff to account for what is considered ‘ordinary consumption’ of potentially contaminated poppy seeds while still being able to differentiate from codeine abuse,” Moline said.

Until this or any other such approach is taken, service members are urged to avoid poppy seed consumption. The DOD has stated it will revise its poppy seed policy once more information becomes available, but no timetable for this has been provided.

Moline said before any action is taken against an individual who tests positive, that person will have ample opportunity to provide input as to what they believe could have caused the urinalysis result.

“After a reported positive urinalysis, the command team is notified of the person, the substance and the level at which the substance was found in the urinalysis,” Moline said. “This process could result in a military member being placed under investigation by Security Forces or the Office of Special Investigations.

“A member always has the right and ability to speak to investigators or their command team, or to refrain from doing so. In attempting to prevent inadvertent positive urinalysis results, and subsequent pressures of investigations, the DOD has issued the recommendation to avoid poppy seeds while the DOD determines the correct course of action.”

Service members have been directed to work with their local legal office for any concerns related to urinalysis results. The Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Arnold AFB can be reached at 931-454-7814. For those wishing to discuss their concerns with their Area Defense Counsel, the servicing ADC for Arnold is located at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. That office can be reached at 478-926-5852.