Researchers Develop Breath Test for Opioids

The novel test has both medical and law enforcement applications.

A breathalyzer is a useful tool for detecting alcohol consumption but what about opioids? Wouldn't it be equally useful to have a breathalyzer for drugs?

RELATED: SCIENTISTS DEVELOP NON-ADDICTIVE PAINKILLER TO BATTLE OPIOID EPIDEMIC

Now a team at the University of California, Davis has engineered a test to detect opioid drugs in the breath, a sort of breathalyzer for opioids. The test could be put to use in a number of case scenarios.

Impacting society

"There are a few ways we think this could impact society," said in a statement Professor Cristina Davis, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC Davis, who led the research along with Professor Michael Schivo from the UC Davis Medical Center. 

The new breathalyzer could provide a less invasive option than blood tests for medical professionals to monitor patients to ensure they are taking their drugs correctly, that their prescribed drugs are being metabolized properly and that they are not taking additional medications. It could also be used as an effective test for illegal use of the drugs by law enforcement personnel. 

The test requires that the subject breathe into a specialized collection device. Droplets in the breath condense and are stored in a freezer. Davis' team then uses mass spectrometry to identify potential traces of drugs in the samples.

Testing the test

The team tested their new breathalyzer in a group of patients receiving infusions of pain medications including morphine and hydromorphone at the UC Davis Medical Center. It gave them the opportunity to compare their opioid metabolites collected in breath with both blood samples and the doses given to patients.

"We can see both the original drug and metabolites in exhaled breath," Davis said.

However, before the new test can be fully validated more data from larger groups of patients will be required. Davis is now hoping to conduct research in real-time, bedside testing. And that's not all.

Her laboratory is working on extending the potential applications for detecting small amounts of chemicals through different avenues. Examples of other tests include diagnosing influenza in people and citrus greening disease in fruit trees.

Her work is described in a paper published in the Journal of Breath Research Oct. 3.

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