New Breathalyzer Can Detect Marijuana, Cocaine, Heroin

New method is as effective as urine, blood samples.

Officer Kevin Millan of the Miami Beach police department conducts a field sobriety test at a DUI checkpoint in Miami, Fla., Dec. 15, 2006.

Police might soon be able to detect more than just alcohol on their breathing test devices. A new Swedish-designed device can detect 12 different controlled substances, including methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, morphine and marijuana.

Though most states have laws against driving under the influence of drugs, police have had no easy way of testing it on the road, so a blood or urine sample has been necessary to charge offenders. In a study published in the Journal of Breath Research Thursday, Olof Beck, of Sweden's Karolinska Institutet, detected drugs on the breath of 47 patients at a drug addiction emergency clinic.

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"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," Beck said in a statement.

The Breathalyzer test was able to correctly detect drug use in 87 percent of cases; the test was equally as accurate as blood and urine tests, according to the study. Beck said future studies could be used to correlate breath concentrations of drugs with concentrations in urine and blood. He suggested that a breath test could be given at the scene and then confirmed with a blood test later.

"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," he said.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, drugs other than alcohol are involved in about 18 percent of fatal car crashes. Drunken driving accounts for about a third of all traffic related deaths, and about 1.4 million drivers are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol each year.

"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," the study says. "Since exhaled breath may be as easy to collect as in alcohol breath testing it may present a new more accessible matrix than blood at the roadside."


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