Pentagon warns US military members to avoid poppy seeds, citing impacts on drug tests

The Department of Defense is urging service members not to eat poppy seeds due to concerns that it could affect their drug tests.

In a memo published on Feb. 17, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros told service members they should completely avoid "all consumption" of poppy seeds, which included baked goods they are commonly found in.

"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.

Poppy seeds can absorb opium extract when being harvested which can cause drugs like morphine and codeine to appear on a urine drug test, according to the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

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

This is not a rare occurrence. Last year, the Associated Press reported that a suburban Chicago woman alleged that a hospital tested her for drugs without her consent before she gave birth, resulting in a false positive for opiates that she attributes to a poppy seed cake but which led to months of monitoring by state child welfare workers.

The National Advocates for Pregnant Women and the ACLU of Illinois filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights on the woman’s behalf against the AMITA St. Alexius Medical Center for carrying out the "discriminatory, non-consensual drug test of a first-time mother."

The 46-year-old woman gave birth via cesarean section to a premature but otherwise healthy boy in April 2021 at the Hoffman Estates hospital. She said hospital staff rejected her explanation that she may have tested positive for opiates because the day she was tested and the day before, she had eaten makowiec, a poppy seed cake that’s a traditional Polish Easter dessert.

"I never imagined that enjoying a traditional Polish cake at an Easter celebration would create suspicion that we would not care for our child," the woman said Thursday in a news release.