Breath study brings roadside drug testing closer

Apr 25, 2013

(Phys.org) —A group of researchers from Sweden have provided further evidence that illegal drugs can be detected in the breath, opening up the possibility of a roadside breathalyzer test to detect substances such as cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis.

Using a simple, commercially available breath sampler, the researchers have successfully identified a range of 12 substances in the breath of 40 patients recruited from a drug emergency clinic in Stockholm.

Their findings have been published today, 26 April, in IOP Publishing's Journal of Breath Research.

Blood, urine and saliva are the most popular methods for detecting and are already used by law enforcement in a number of countries; however, exhaled breath is seen as a promising alternative as it's easier to collect, non-invasive, less prone to adulteration and advantageous when location becomes an obstacle, such as at the roadside.

Exhaled breath contains very small particles that carry non- from the airway lining fluid. Any compound that has been inhaled, or is present in the blood, may contaminate this fluid and pass into the breath when the airways open. The compounds will then be exhaled and can subsequently be detected.

In this study, researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm collected breath, and from 47 patients (38 males, 9 females) who had taken drugs in the previous 24 hours and were recovering at a emergency clinic.

Interviews were also undertaken with each patient to assess their history of drug use.

The breath samples were taken using a commercially available sampling device – SensAbues – and then analysed using and .

The portable sampling device consists of a mouth piece and a micro-particle filter. When a patient breathes into the mouth piece, saliva and larger particles are separated from the micro-particles that need to be measured.

The micro-particles are able to pass through and deposit onto a filter, which can then be sealed and stored ready for analysis. Breath samples were analysed for twelve substances.

Alprazolam and benzoylecgonine were detected in exhaled breath for the first time, whereas for methadone, amphetamine, methamphetamine, cocaine, morphine, 6-acetylmorphine, tetrahydrocannabinol, buprenorphine, diazepam and oxazepam, the results confirmed previous observations.

"Considering the samples were taken 24 hours after the intake of drugs, we were surprised to find that there was still high detectability for most drugs," said lead author of the study Professor Olof Beck.

"In cases of suspected driving under the influence of drugs, blood samples could be taken in parallel with breath when back at a police station. Future studies should therefore test the correlation between blood concentration of drugs of abuse and the concentrations in exhaled breath."

Explore further: Researchers have developed a diagnostic device to make portable health care possible

More information: "Detection of drugs of abuse in exhaled breath using a device for rapid collection: comparison with plasma, urine and self-reporting in 47 drug users" J. Breath Res. 7 026006 iopscience.iop.org/1752-7163/7/2/026006

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User comments : 2

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Anonym
1 / 5 (4) Apr 26, 2013
But what evidence is there that driving under the influence of any of these drugs creates a hazard for others? Government and university studies, for example, have found that people under the influence of cannabis actually are safer drivers than "sober" drivers, and certainly far safer than drunk drivers. Yet policymakers in states where cannabis use is legal, who continue to seek to circumscribe its use by hook or by crook, have turned to DUI law as a rearguard action in their strategic retreat from the "war on drugs." Tools such as breath analyzers that empower them can only result in more bad law.... So here is a Bronx cheer for (mis)applied science.
Mandan
not rated yet Apr 27, 2013
NO ONE should be allowed to drive impaired by drugs or alcohol. Period. I have done both and am lucky to be alive and not to have killed anyone else.

I am in favor of legalized recreational drug use but laws against operating motor vehicles while under the influence must remain punitive. It is negligent to DUI, it is irresponsible, and if injury or death result then aggravated charges should be attached to indictments.

What is needed is a means to test for degree of impairment, not traces of molecules on the breath or in the blood. Making a device available to traffic police that would be capable of field testing whether a person's reflexes, response times, coordination, concentration, etc are in line with operating a motor vehicle would not only remove arbitrary, often meaningless blood level maximums but would also have the added advantage of removing even those drivers who are under the influence of no drug at all, but simply too stupid or incompetent to even drive sober.