Due for a drug test? Stay away from poppy-seed bagels!

Sesame seed bagels are better, anyway.   :-)

It's well known in drug testing circles that poppy seeds can make a person test positive for opiates.

That's because poppy seeds come from the poppy plant, which is also used to produce heroin, opium, and whatever it was that made Dorothy, Toto, and the Cowardly Lion fall asleep on their way to the Emerald City.

Delicious, but deadly.


The opium in poppy seeds on a bagel (or in salad dressing) isn't enough to get you doped up, but it can be enough to give you a false positive on a drug test.

We've known this for at least 20 years, and I've generally advised employers to check with the drug testing lab or Medical Review Officer if a person tests positive for opiates and claims to have eaten poppy seeds before taking the test. If the lab or MRO confirms that poppy seeds could have caused the result, then I've advised giving the individual the benefit of the doubt.

The New York City Department of Correction isn't as nice as I am. According to the New York Post, Officer Eleazer Paz tested positive for morphine and codeine, and had been cleared to return to work by an administrative law judge. The ALJ found that the positive result was probably caused by Officer Paz's consumption of a poppy seed bagel. Officer Paz even had expert testimony from a toxicologist, who testified that the result "could only be explained by eating poppy seed bagels because the quantities of the drugs were . . . inconsistent with heroin or individual morphine and codeine ingestion." (Ellipsis in NY Post article.)

The ALJ recommended that Officer Paz be reinstated, but the DOC ordered this week that he be fired, crediting instead the testimony from a representative of the laboratory that conducted the test.

I'd have given Officer Paz the benefit of the doubt. But maybe the real moral of the story is to stay away from poppy seeds if you're subject to random drug testing, or if you're applying for a job. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency reportedly recommends that athletes refrain from eating poppy seeds for a few days before any athletic competition.

See? Sesame seed bagels really are best. In more ways than one.

Image Credit: From flickr, Creative Commons license, by Infrogmation of New Orleans.

Robin Shea has more than 20 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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