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Is a roadside breathalyzer test for drugs on the horizon?

One of the more formidable weapons possessed by law enforcement officials in the fight against impaired driving is the roadside breathalyzer test. However, this device is certainly not without its flaws and limitations, including the fact that it can only detect the presence of alcohol. When it comes to detecting the presence of illegal narcotics, law enforcement officials must rely on either blood or urine samples taken at the local station.

This might soon change, however, as researchers in Sweden recently completed a study in which they were able to detect the presence of 12 different controlled substances with an accuracy rate of 87 percent using a roadside sobriety testing device.

In the study -- published in the latest edition of the Journal of Breath Research -- the researchers used a commercially available breath test called a SensAbues to test the breath of roughly 40 patients who had consumed various drugs in the previous 24-hour timeframe and who were recovering at an addiction clinic.

The breath test was able to detect cocaine, heroin, marijuana, morphine, diazepam (i.e., Valium), aiprazolam (an active ingredient in Xanax) and methamphetamine, to name only a few.

"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," said Prof. Olof Beck, one of the primary authors of the study.

How exactly does the test work?

The SensAbues device consists primarily of a mouthpiece and a micro-particle filter that is designed to separate saliva and large particles from micro-particles in the breath. These micro-particles -- which contain traces of illegal narcotics -- are then deposited onto the filter during the breath test. The filter can then simply be sealed, stored and submitted to a lab for testing, theoretically eliminating the need for a blood or urine test.

It's safe to say that this drug detection roadside test is still a long way from becoming standard equipment in squad cars across the U.S. However, it's highly likely that states like Colorado and Washington, which have legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, will pay close attention to the development of the technology.

Remember, a DUI arrest leaves you with a criminal record that could affect your job prospects, ability to obtain loans or future opportunities. You may also face serious fines, the loss of your driver's license and jail time.

If you have been charged with drunk driving, be certain to contact an experienced legal professional who will know what questions need to be answered. Did the police have probable cause to stop your car? Were you read your Miranda rights? When was your blood alcohol content measured? 

Source: WebMD, "Swedish researchers detected signs of recent cocaine, marijuana, narcotic and other substance use," Robert Preidt, April 26, 2013; The Inquisitr, "New breathalyzer test detects drugs too," Melissa Stusinski, April 28, 2013