Egg on Their Faces? No, Poppy Seeds

The office of the military advocate general and the Military Police were recently involved in an embarrassing affair in which soldiers were suspected of using heroin and morphine - which turned out to be nothing more than plain poppy seeds found on everyday rolls.

The investigation resulted in two soldiers being held in custody for four days, and then confined to their base. The soldiers were released last week after it became clear that the suspicious findings stemmed from the consumption of bread rolls containing poppy seeds.

The affair began in November, when tests conducted on soldiers at a Medical Corps base in the south revealed traces of opiates in the urine of three female and two male soldiers. The findings of subsequent and more comprehensive laboratory tests appeared to substantiate the suspicions against the three female soldiers.

Two of the soldiers were arrested early this month (the third was on leave at the time), and they vehemently denied the accusations. Questioning of the two revealed that on the day of the urine tests, they had eaten bread rolls covered in poppy seeds.

Military investigators consulted with Dr. Michal Rothenberg, deputy director of the toxicology laboratory at Sheba Medical Center, who told them that "eating a roll with poppy seeds cannot be a reasonable explanation for the findings."

The military prosecutor was convinced, and determinedly promised "to press charges."

During the remand hearing, the soldiers' lawyers argued that their clients "have no idea how the drug got into their bodies," stressing that the findings were unacceptable because the two were not part of the same social circle on the base, were not acquainted with one another and had not been cited for irregular behavior by their respective commanders.

Furthermore, the defense lawyers argued, no morphine had been reported missing from the base.

The court advised that the soldiers be allowed to undergo a polygraph test, but before they were taken, the office of the military advocate general decided to release the suspects.

Tests conducted on other soldiers who were asked to eat rolls with poppy seeds revealed traces of opiates in their urine too.

The director of Sheba's toxicology department, Dr. Shlomo Almog, told Haaretz that this was the first time he had come across such a case. Poppy seeds for human consumption, he said, contained negligible amounts of morphine, whereas the lab tests conducted on the soldiers had revealed high concentrations of the material.

Almog said he believed that the poppy-seed producer had used plants that contained an abnormally high amount of opiates.