Correction Officer Reinstated After Testing Positive for Opiates Thanks to Poppy Seed Bagel

The Paz family.
The Paz family. Megan Rha

A New York correction officer was fired after poppy seeds on a bagel apparently ruined his employee drug test.

A New York City Department of Correction officer is now back on the job after he tested positive for opiates, apparently thanks to his consumption of a poppy seed bagel.

Eleazar Paz failed a random employee drug test nearly a year ago after it came back showing minute traces of morphine, his attorney, Megan Rha, told Thursday. Paz, a 10-year veteran of the department, knew he hadn't taken any drugs, she said, so he later arranged a hair follicle test, which came back clean.

Rha said she presented the follicle findings, as well as testimony from a toxicology expert explaining that tiny amounts of morphine in drug tests can be caused by unwashed poppy seeds, which come from opium plants. And her client, she said, had a fondness for poppy seed bagels. 

Eating a poppy seed bagel can result in false positive drug test results, experts say. - istock

The judge agreed with Paz's presentations and recommended he be reinstated. But, Rha said, a Department of Correction commissioner disagreed with the judge, and Paz's job as an officer at Rikers Island, New York City's main jail complex, was gone.

That happened in August, and since then, Paz and his lawyer have been fighting to get his position back. 

"So we appealed to the [city's] Civil Service Commission," Rha said. And in late November, the panel reversed the commissioner's termination and reinstated Paz's employment.

Monday was his first day back on the job. "We're just extremely happy," said Rha. When she called to give Paz, his wife and their two children the good news, "they were ecstatic," she said. 

Paz is undergoing retraining and is in a different post, she said. He is putting his head down and working hard. Paz was denied back pay for the months he was out of a job, she said, and she intends to appeal that. 

"He was just fighting for his livelihood and his family," she said. "He just wants to live a quiet life and do his job."