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Poppy seed bagels imperil drug tests

The famous poppy seed defense may be valid. Poppy seeds can trigger a false positive drug test because they come from opium poppies, which sometimes contain small traces of morphine. These results have led to lawsuits and serve as a reminder that inaccurate drug testing can lead to false drug charges or other legal problems.

As far back as 20 years ago, the federal government revised its workplace drug testing policies because of the probability that a poppy seed bagel would register as a false positive on a drug test. Individuals tested positive at 300ng/ml even though they did not use heroin but legitimately took a prescription codeine or morphine medication or ate normal dietary amounts of poppy seeds. The government raised this level to 2,000 nanograms per milliliter.

The Pennsylvania ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of a woman who flunked a drug test after she ate a poppy seed bagel and child welfare authorities took her 3-day-old daughter away for five days. In its October 2010 lawsuit, the ACLU claimed that a New Castle hospital relied on a testing threshold that was substantially lower than the federal government's level and did not ask the woman whether she ate anything that could impact test results. The hospital and county settled the lawsuit for $143,500 and changed their testing policies.

The same county settled another similar lawsuit for $160,000 in 2011. The plaintiff's son spent 75 days in foster care because of a false-positive drug test caused by the mother eating a pasta salad with poppy seed dressing.

The issue has continued to persist. A Maryland woman who was in a hospital to give birth tested positive for opiates after eating a poppy seed bagel in April. The physician refused to give a second test and reported her to state officials. Her daughter remained in the hospital under monitoring for five days until a case worker closed her file after determining that poppy seeds caused a false positive.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons still prohibits inmates on temporary furloughs from consuming poppy seeds. Despite these issues, experts have not determined how many poppy seeds will trigger a false test result.

Testing for illegal drugs may have serious consequences. An attorney can help contest an invalid test and mount a criminal defense.

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