When New York City jail guard Eleazar Paz had eggs, a poppy seed bagel and a coffee for breakfast in January of 2016, he had no idea it would cost him his $82,000 job. A random urine test revealed 522 nanograms of morphine and 358 nanograms of codeine in his system, and he was subsequently thrust into a legal maze that would take two years to unravel.
In court, during April 2016, toxicology expert Dr. William Sawyer testified on his behalf, noting that a drug abuser would have “urine values in the thousands.” Judge John B. Spooner was convinced and suggested charges be dismissed, but the Department of Corrections fired Paz anyway.
By Christmas Eve 2018 Paz, who had worked at his Rikers job for a decade prior to his conviction, was back at his post, after a Civil Service Commissioner overturned the decision of the administrative judge in a rare disagreement.
What caused the mixup? In 1997, the federal government raised the threshold for testing drug-positive to 2,000 nanograms after studies revealed that unwashed poppy seeds could have results above 300 nanograms. The Department of Corrections has yet to get with the program, and is administering their drug tests by the old standard, causing life-destroying mixups like the one that derailed Paz’s life for two years.
“I wanted to cry when I heard they would take me back,” Paz told the New York Post.
Looks like Elaine from Seinfeld wasn’t lying. You can test positive for opium after eating a poppy seed bagel. Jews, be warned. Poppyseeds and drug tests are not a match.
Shira Feder is a writer. She’s at email@example.com and @shirafeder