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Case Report: False Positive Opiate Test – Orange County, NC


     By 3rd Degree Investigations, Inc. DNA, Narcotics and Controlled Substance Forensic Expert Witness

PhoneCall Dana Way - 3rd Degree Investigations, Inc. at (919) 427-5592


Mr. Stephen Cappannari contacted me at my office in and around the end of March 2009 with a complaint that he was going to held accountable for a morphine positive drug test in the Orange County Drug Court in Chapel Hill. The detection limit utilized by Orange County Drug Court is reportedly 75ng/ml, while some others may use a higher limit such as 300ng/ml or even 2000ng/ml.
Mr. Cappannari had only one reported level of morphine slightly below 300ng/ml and had first claimed it to be from a food source of poppy seed bagels, whereby his probation officer promply explained to him that such a food source contamination was not possible. He then went back to his apartment to try and determine yet some other source of contamination, perhaps over the counter medication that could possibly interfer. Confirming with the laboratory performing the confirmation testing, it was discovered that none of the medications he listed could have been a source. He then was told that he would have to provide an expert to appear for him to document a possible food source contamination. He contacted me for this information and I was able to confirm that poppy seeds indeed could be a source of contamination in morphine positive results in drug testing and even that poppy seeds could show a false positive being that these seeds are derived from the actual opium plant that is the main source of the production of morphine. In fact, this information has been available for more than 10 years through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA). SAMHSA performed a broad range study on determining the level of false positives obtained from food source or prescription drug contamination. The study included several laboratories and more than a million urine samples. In this study it was determined that at the current detection limit or cut off level of the standard 300ng/ml 87% were considered false positive from a food source or prescription drug contamination. The results of this study allowed SAMHSA to safely document a new cut off level of 2000ng/ml to be the determining factor for illicit drug users.

Mr. Cappannari was found guilty on a failure to disclose medications prior to drug test because he, although had not been taking them on a regular basis, may have taken one or more intermittently and could not recall exactly. The court also held him guilty of morphine in his system regardless of the source (possible food source contamination proposed by the confirming laboratory and expert). They did allow him to continue to the next phase of the program with a specified “clean” drug screen status.

In effect, the court allowed Mr. Cappannari to progress and was open to food source contamination with morphine levels and had discussed with me possible consultation assistance in re-evalutaing their program in respect to such contamination to allow fair and due process to their clients. Mr. Cappannari was found guilty on the morphine without penalty under their current program evaluation and was found innocent by actions of their allowing him to progress in the program with clean drug screens.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dana Way - 3rd Degree Investigations, Inc.
3rd Degree Investigations, Inc. was founded in 2005 with the intention to serve the Criminal Justice System with an unwavering commitment to Science in the Pursuit of Truth. We have more than 15 years of combined experience in the fields of testing, analysis, profiling, and investigations. We have set the standard to work only with laboratories committed to the highest level of standards obtainable to assist us in our efforts serving our clients. The labs we contract hold accreditation by the Crime Laboratory Accreditation Program of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASLCD-LAB) for laboratory analysis in the disciplines of Biology (DNA and Serology), Controlled Substances, and Trace Evidence Examination. In addition, the labs hold accreditation by the American Board of Forensic Toxicology (ABFT).

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While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.
For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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