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Morphine and the Wild Poppy

There has been a recent report of the detection of oats contaminated with poppy seeds.

Wild poppies contain traces of codeine and morphine and they can contaminate fodder and cereal crops as well as manufactured feeds. Ingestion of poppies through these sources can lead to the detection of morphine in the urine of horses sampled at the races.

The wild poppy, whose botanical name is Papaver Somniferum SSP Setigerum, is widely distributed from South Queensland to South Australia. The growing plant has a pale purple flower and the dried flower pods (seed capsules) may appear in fodder and cereal crops (see photograph above). These seed capsules, when ingested, may produce a urine positive to morphine. Only morphine would usually be detected in the urine because the codeine ingested is metabolised to morphine in the horse’s system.

The dry pods contain many small black seeds (poppy seeds) and these do not contain codeine or morphine. However, their presence in the bottom of feed bins may be an indication of the presence of seed capsules in a particular batch of feed.

The problems presented by poppy contamination of horse feed can be solved by trainers, stablehands and feed merchants being able to identify the culprit seed capsules.

If you identify poppy contamination of horse feed, please submit one to two handfuls of the suspect sample in a labeled plastic bag to the Racing Victoria Stewards. They will arrange transfer of the sample to the RASL Laboratory for analysis.