DoD Announces That Poppy Seeds May Lead to a Positive Urinalysis for Codeine

For decades, servicemembers facing court-martial, nonjudicial punishment, or administrative separation for positive urinalyses have argued that certain results could come from the ingestion of perfectly legal substances. One example of an innocent substance that could lead to a positive opiate urinalysis is poppy seeds, found on bagels, in seasonings, and on other food products. The “poppy seed” defense just became much stronger, thanks to a notice from the Department of Defense.

Poppy seeds come from the same plant that produces the opium latex that includes morphine and codeine. While the poppy seeds themselves do not contain opiates, the poppy seeds can be contaminated by the opium latex during harvesting, leading to some amount of opiates being present on the poppy seeds when they are consumed in food.

The scientific community had long recognized that the ingestion of poppy seeds could lead to a positive urinalysis result for morphine and codeine. The belief was that these results could be distinguished from illegal codeine use by looking at the amount of codeine found and the ratio of morphine to codeine. It was understood that a poppy seed ingestion would result in a low level of codeine with the morphine level being at least double that of the codeine. This was the test used to determine whether a positive urinalysis came from innocent poppy seeds or illegal drug use.

Now, however, a new study has shown that certain poppy seeds can produce positive results for codeine that do not follow the generally accepted rule. These particular poppy seeds produce mostly codeine and very little morphine, so the urinalysis results would show a high level of codeine and very low level of morphine. Under the old understanding, a laboratory would have returned these results as positive for illegal codeine use.

The Department of Defense issued a notice this month to alert the services of this new finding. Under the Supreme Court case of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the Government must disclose any negative evidence or evidence harmful to its case to the defense. For example, if a police officer is caught lying about a case, the defense in every case the officer is involved in will get a notice of his prior misconduct. Widespread Brady notices like this one have also been issued after individuals at forensic laboratories have been found falsifying results. In addition to providing the Brady notice, the DoD has also suspended the reporting of positive codeine results from all DoD forensic testing laboratories and has ordered the laboratories to hold onto all samples they still have that were reported as positive for codeine. The military services are supposed to contact any servicemembers with a previously reported positive codeine urinalysis for remedial actions.

If you have suffered any adverse administrative or punitive actions as a result of a positive codeine urinalysis, you should get ahead of the process and learn what relief you may be entitled to. Contact Bill Cassara at (706) 445-2943 for a free consultation.

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