A Breathalyzer For Opioids Is In The Works

By Desiree Bowie 12/03/19

It's being described as a "less invasive way to monitor a patient's drug use by collecting their breath in a small specialized machine. "

man blowing into a breathalyzer
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Researchers at UC Davis are working on a device that can detect the presence of opioids similar to the popular devices that detect alcohol on people's breath. 

"When we started this nobody knew you could measure drugs in breath," Professor Cristina Davis, the chair of the Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering Department at UC Davis, told CBS Sacramento.

She along with her team of researchers helped develop the device, which they believe has the potential to save lives.

How It Works

The device in question is described as a "less invasive way to monitor a patient's drug use by collecting their breath in a small specialized machine. "

Dr. Nicholas Kenyon, a member of the research team described the way the device works to CBS Sacramento. “We collect breath in a liquid format in this device and we chill it and then we collect it as a liquid and run it through a mass spectrometer to measure what’s in there.”

The team believes that their device can help a multitude of professionals including doctors, firefighters, law enforcement and probation officers identify drug use. 

For doctors, the device could help them ensure patients aren't misusing their prescriptions. 

“A device like this could help tell if they’re taking the drugs like they’re supposed to,” Davis said.

For police officers, the device can help identify drivers under the influence, while for probation officers could use the device to make sure that parolees remain sober.

Davis has high hopes for the future of breath testing. 

“I would love to say in one to three years that we actually have people using this for one of the application areas and I think from there it will grow. I think over a five-to-10-year time frame, that breath testing won’t just be a story, it’ll actually be at your doctor’s office,” Davis said.

Marijuana Breathalyzer

Another type of breathalyzer is being rolled out to combat driving under the influence of cannabis. Star Labs have created a device that uses nanotechnology to detect THC levels in breath. While breathalzyers for alcohol use have been in use for decades, similar tests for marijuana have been slow to develop due to the way THC works in the body.

Determining the ratio of THC in someone's breath versus the amount of THC in their blood has left scientists scratching their heads. And federal prohibition makes researching the drug to come up with a proper way to measure it in the blood and breath particularly difficult. 

According to NPR, Star Lab's marijuana breathalyzer is "nearly ready for mass production" and could potentially be on the market soon. 

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Desiree Bowie is a writer and movie lover from Los Angeles, California. Follow her on Twitter @dangerbowie