New Breathalyzer Can Detect Pot, Cocaine and Meth

By McCarton Ackerman 04/26/13

Testing drivers for drugs other than alcohol could soon get much easier.

Breathalyzers get up to speed.

Breathalyzers could soon detect more than just booze on your breath. Driving under the influence of drugs is illegal in most states, but police have had no easy way of testing it, requiring a blood or urine sample in order to charge offenders—but that could soon change. Using a commercially available breathalyzer called the SensAbeus, scientists at Stockholm's Karolinska Institute were able to detect hard drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, meth and prescription medication. Researchers parsed tiny particles in the breath of test subjects using chromatography and mass-spectrometry techniques, allowing them to detect drugs accurately in 87% of cases, which is equally as accurate as blood and urine tests. "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," says lead author of the study Professor Olof Beck. "There is a possibility that exhaled breath will develop into a new matrix for routine drug testing and present an alternative to already used matrices like urine, blood, oral fluid, sweat and hair." However, the researchers are not yet able to detect the exact hour that a person last ingested a drug, which can often indicate whether is too impaired to operate a vehicle. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 18% of fatal car accidents involve drugs other than alcohol.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.