• Fri. Feb 24th, 2023
A close-up of an opium poppy in Afghanistan. Scarring poppy pods releases sap for opium production. (UN photo)

(GCSS) — The Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness has issued a memorandum warning service members about the potential impact of consuming poppy seeds on military drug testing. The memo raises concerns about the possibility of poppy seeds being contaminated with codeine and morphine, which can cause a positive result in drug tests.

Poppy seeds are derived from the opium poppy plant, scientifically named Papaver somniferum, which is the primary source of opium and codeine. This species of poppy has the highest concentration of the alkaloids morphine, codeine, and thebaine. These alkaloids are found in the sap of the opium poppy and are used as the starting material for the manufacture of many prescription pain medications and other drugs. However, other species of poppies, like the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and the Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule), may also contain trace amounts of alkaloids that can show up as codeine and morphine in drug testing.

Recent data suggests certain poppy seeds varieties may have higher codeine contamination than previously reported. Consumption of poppy seed products could cause a codeine positive urinalysis result and undermine the Department’s ability to identify illicit drug use.

Gilbert R. Cisneros, Under Secretary of Defense

As drug testing methods become more sensitive, it’s possible for even trace amounts of codeine and morphine alkaloids in poppy seeds to be detected. This is why the Under Secretary of Defense is advising service members to avoid consuming all products containing poppy seeds, including food and baked goods, out of an abundance of caution.

Additionally, one food item commonly found in US government-issued MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat) is a yellow cake that may contain ingredients made with poppy seeds. Service members are encouraged to be mindful of the contents of their MREs and to consider the warning from the Under Secretary of Defense when making food choices.

Critics of the memo from the Under Secretary of Defense have argued that instead of advising all service members to stop eating products containing poppy seeds, the military’s drug testing should be made less stringent. This argument suggests that the current cutoff levels for drug testing may be too low and may detect only trace amounts of codeine and morphine that could be present in poppy seed products. These critics argue that the cutoff levels should be raised or the testing method should be modified to better distinguish between illicit drug use and the consumption of poppy seed products.

Substance abuse is a serious issue in the military and can have negative impacts on the health, safety, and readiness of service members. The military has strict policies in place to address substance abuse, and service members who test positive for drugs may face disciplinary action, up to and including separation from the military. The memo from the Under Secretary of Defense underscores the military’s commitment to addressing substance abuse and maintaining the health, safety, and readiness of service members.

The memo debate highlights the challenges of maintaining a fair and effective drug testing program while also taking into account the potential impact of food choices on test results. While the military remains committed to addressing substance abuse and maintaining the health, safety, and readiness of service members, it’s important to consider all perspectives and find a solution that balances the need for effective drug testing with the rights and wellbeing of service members.