London: The first fully validated and robust method to check drug abuse in exhaled breath has been developed.

The procedure involves a simple method of sample collection and preparation, which is followed by a highly sensitive analytical technique known as LC-MS (Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry).

The drug groups which are identifiable following the technique include: amphetamines, methamphetamines, cannabis, cocaine and heroin.

“The underlying mechanism in exhaled breath drug testing is believed to be the formation of aerosol particles from the airway lining fluid by the breathing process,” said Professor Olof Beck from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

“These aerosol particles may become contaminated with drugs present in the body, which enables drugs to be highlighted,” said Beck, lead researcher of the study.

Drug testing is most commonly performed using urine samples. The methodology and regulations for reliable urine testing are well developed and can be considered the current gold standard for drug testing.

However, one problem with urine testing is related to the methodology of sample collection, often perceived as inconvenient and privacy-overriding by those undergoing the test.

Researchers worked on developing a more donor-friendly alternative to urine testing for drugs by focusing on exhaled breath.

“A simple collection device is currently available which selectively collects the micrometre aerosol particles on a filter and enables further laboratory investigation of possible drug content,” Beck said.

This method of drug testing could be used routinely, for example, in roadside tests relating to DUID (Driving Under the Influence of Drugs), researchers said.

“I see many possible applications of breath drug testing. DUID is only one; workplace, criminal justice, accidents and compliance monitoring of patients are others.

“For DUID, the short detection time is relevant since the state of influence is in focus, and this combined with the convenient sampling procedure makes it an attractive solution for roadside testing,” said Beck.