Fans of the hit sitcom “Seinfeld” may recall the episode in which Elaine (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) hilariously tested positive for opium after eating a muffin containing poppy seeds — which got her kicked off a work trip to Kenya.
But for two pregnant women in New Jersey, the real-life repercussions of eating poppy seeds and then testing positive for drugs weren’t nearly as funny.
The women ate bagels with poppy seeds last year before heading to two separate hospitals to give birth to their children. Hospital staff administered drug tests to both women — which came back positive for opioids, as a press release from the New Jersey ACLU indicated.
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The hospitals reported the women to the New Jersey Department of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) for possible abuse and neglect.
Now, the women are suing the hospitals for discriminatory practices. The New Jersey ACLU’s press release shared the filed complaints for each woman.
Positive drug tests lead to investigations, lawsuits
The women filed lawsuits against the two hospitals, Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack and Virtua Voorhees Hospital in Voorhees Township, for giving them drug tests without their knowledge or consent and “in the absence of medical necessity.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU) filed two complaints on March 8 to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights on behalf of the women.
The complaints cite a violation of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD), which prohibits unlawful employment discrimination based on sex and pregnancy, according to the same press release.
There is also a federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which “prohibits discrimination based upon pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions,” and “requires that women who are pregnant, or affected by related conditions, must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations.”
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“No one should be subjected to unnecessary and nonconsensual drug tests,” said ACLU-NJ staff attorney Molly Linhorst in a press release.
“Our clients are sending a clear message to hospitals that these testing and reporting policies are unacceptable.”
She also said, “Discriminatory testing policies like these upend what should be a time of joy for families, and so often subject them to further trauma and unwarranted investigation by the state.”
“No one should be subjected to unnecessary and nonconsensual drug tests.”
One of the women, named in the complaint as Kaitlin K., said in a statement that she feels violated.
“This whole ordeal has been extremely stressful and has turned our lives upside down and now, because of what happened, I live in fear of medical tests and how they might be used against me as a mother,” she said, as the ACLU press release noted.
“I found out later that the lab used a testing threshold far, far lower than what the federal government uses.”
Why do poppy seeds trigger positive drug tests?
Opiates can be detected in urine drug tests for as long as two days after eating foods containing poppy seeds, according to Winchester Hospital in Masssachusetts.
“Poppy seeds can cause a urine drug test to screen positive for opioids such as morphine, codeine and heroin,” said Dr. Fara Khorassani, health sciences associate clinical professor at the UCI School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences in Irvine, California, in an email to Fox News Digital.
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Because poppy seeds come from the opium poppy plant, which is also the source of opioid drugs, the seeds are coated with trace amounts of the illicit substances.
“If someone is eating large amounts of poppy seeds and has to get a urine drug screen, they should avoid eating the poppy seeds within 48 hours of the drug screen,” said Dr. Khorassani.
“Otherwise, most assays [laboratory tests] will not detect the trace amounts of opioids from poppy seeds.”
In addition to bagels and other pastries, some poppy-based teas can cause positive urine drug tests for opioids, the doctor noted.
“Other than that, hemp-containing foods may cause urine drug screens positive for THC, as they have variable concentrations of cannabinoids,” she said.
Results depend on drug test ‘cutoff’ guidelines
Any given drug test’s result will depend on the “cutoff concentration,” Gary M. Reisfield, M.D., associate professor of the Division of Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida, told Fox News Digital.
“For example, in most workplace drug testing programs, the cutoff is 2,000 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter), which would screen out most (but not all) results due to poppy seeds,” he said.
Poppy seeds come from the opium poppy plant, which is also the source of opioid drugs.
However, in medical settings such as hospitals, the cutoff may be as low as 300 ng/mL.
“At this lower cutoff, it’s actually pretty easy to test positive for opiates,” said Dr. Reisfield. “A lot depends on how much you eat and the opiate profile of the food — which is not posted on the package.”
A couple of poppy seed bagels, a larger poppy seed muffins or a piece of poppy seed Danish could yield a positive result, he said.
Prior false positives from poppy seeds
Pregnant women in several other states have filed similar suits challenging hospital drug tests.
In January, a complaint was filed against Saint Alexius Hospital in Chicago after a pregnant woman was drug-tested without consent, as detailed in a press release from the Illinois ACLU. The woman had eaten cake containing poppy seeds before coming to the hospital.
The test was positive for opioids, leading to a three-month investigation by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
In 2021, two pregnant women were drug-tested without consent at Garnet Health Medical Center in Middletown, New York, according to a press release from The New York Civil Liberties Union and Pregnancy Justice, a New York-based nonprofit that aims to protect pregnant women’s rights.
Both women, who had also eaten foods with poppy seeds, tested positive.
The hospital reported them to the State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR), which led to searches of their homes.
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“It is our customary approach not to comment on pending litigation,” Daniel Moise, a spokesperson for Virtua Vorhees, said in an emailed response to a Fox News Digital query.
“As a health system dedicated to providing safe, comprehensive and equitable care to the community, we are fully committed to reviewing this matter.”
“This whole ordeal has turned our lives upside down.”
Fox News Digital also reached out to Hackensack University Medical Center but did not receive an immediate response.
Hackensack University Medical Center’s website states that the hospital supports The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
Fox News Digital also reached out to the New Jersey ACLU for comment.