The future of the breathalyzer

Credit: SensAbues AB

The breathalyzer, a tool that would prove invaluable for both officers and responsible drivers attempting to curb drunk driving, was created in the 1960s. It was a game changer for police, who could now discover someone’s blood-alcohol content in mere seconds.

Unfortunately, testing for drugs has never been as easy. Doing that requires a blood or saliva test, which doesn’t do a whole lot of good immediately following a wreck.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this might be changing. The Journal of Breath Research, which I promise you is a real thing, published a study that claims scientists can now test for 12 different drugs in the body via breath. Drugs like cocaine, marijuana and amphetamines.

In fact, researchers at the Swedish Karolinska Institutet have actually already created a breath-testing machine called SensAbues. The machine works by trapping both solid and liquid micro-particles in one’s breath. These micro-particles include molecules from our lungs, obviously, which can include small amounts of molecules from our blood stream. By analyzing these micro-particles, you can find out what’s in someone’s blood stream.

At least, that’s the idea. In a test of 46 people who had all taken illegal substances, SensAbues detected drugs in 40 of them. Frighteningly though, the test reported drugs in 23 percent of these folks that they hadn’t taken.

Obviously, for some pretty basic upholding-the-constitution reasons, this isn’t ready to be in the hands of America’s police, but it’s a start. There are aspects that still need to be figured out, such as figuring out how much of a drug is in someone’s system, not merely if it’s there.

Still, it’s a big step toward increasing motorist safety.

Journal of Breath Research, Via Smithsonian

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