All service members have been advised by the Pentagon to stop eating poppy seeds or risk registering a false positive on military drug tests.
Certain varieties of the small black seeds, which are commonly sprinkled on bagels, buns and other breads, may have higher traces of codeine than previously thought, according to a Feb. 17 memo from Gil Cisneros, the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
The Pentagon said Tuesday that it became aware of the potential problem last year and is now analyzing codeine-only positive drug tests from 2019 to the present to figure out how many troops could have been affected by poppy seeds. Codeine is an opiate used to treat moderate pain but is also widely abused as a recreational drug.
"The amount of poppy seeds consumed, concentration of codeine detected in urine and time of consumption relative to the drug test are also important factors," Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, a Department of Defense spokesperson, said in an email statement to Military.com.
For now, drug testing has not been suspended, Schwegman said, "however as this topic continues to evolve, subject matter experts are reviewing the latest information to assist with potential next steps."
The risk of drug test contamination from the seeds has long been known. In 1991, a study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences analyzed the problem after the U.S. Army Forensic Toxicology Drug Testing Laboratory in Hawaii reported potential false opiate positives related to poppy seeds found in foods of the Pacific Rim.
The poppy plant can produce opium and be refined into codeine, heroin and morphine. Typically, the seeds do not contain those substances naturally but can become contaminated during processing, leaving trace amounts of the powerful drugs, which are restricted under federal law and military rules.
"Recent data suggests certain poppy seeds varieties may have higher codeine contamination than previously reported," Cisneros wrote in the memo. "Consumption of poppy seed products could cause a codeine-positive urinalysis result and undermine the department's ability to identify illicit drug use."
Schwegman said the Pentagon began reviewing what data was available last year and also contracted an independent laboratory to analyze multiple poppy seed brands for codeine and morphine contamination.
That analysis and other recently published studies triggered the warning memo, she said.
"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," Cisneros wrote in the memo. "As more information becomes available, we will revise this policy accordingly."
Service members are advised to contact their local legal offices about concerns over urinalysis drug test results.
The Pentagon's current estimate is that the contamination may have affected troops' results beginning in the fall of 2019. "As we gather more information, we will reassess and update as appropriate," Schwegman wrote.
-- Travis Tritten can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.