Drug Testing using exhaled breath Image

A new method for drug testing using exhaled breath offers an alternative to urine testing. This method has the potential for use in routine testing, roadside testing, sporting events, and workplace testing.

Researchers from the Department of Laboratory Medicine at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden, have developed and validated a new method of drug testing using exhaled breath. The current standard method for drug testing is via urine, and is used in a wide variety of applications including clinical applications, criminal investigations, and sports or workplace substance abuse testing. However, there are applications for which a breath test, such as the alcohol breath test, could be considered an easier and faster alternative.

The new breath testing method was published this month in the Journal of Chromatography B. The principle behind the breath test is that aerosol particles become contaminated with the drugs from the fluid lining the airways as they are exhaled. These aerosol particles are then collected onto a filter by a sampling device.The filter containing the particles is then used for testing in the laboratory by mass spectrometry.

The researchers tested and validated this new method in routine drug testing. They used a total of 1096 samples over a period of 12 months for detection of amphetamine, methamphetamine, 6-acetylmorphine, morphine, cocaine, benzoylecgonine, diazepam, oxazepam, and tetrahydrocannabinol. The study describes the fully validated method of drug testing and further applies it to routine measurement on samples that were sent for drug testing. The study also reports for the first time on the levels of drug present in 39 positive samples derived from breath testing.

The authors report that this method of breath testing has potential for a wide variety of uses, ranging from clinical applications where urine sampling is more difficult, compliance testing during drug addiction treatment, criminal justice applications, workplace drug testing, and accident investigations. The researchers are also planning to develop a test for therapeutic drug use by exhaled breath, testing for this is currently underway.


Stephanson, N, Sandqvist, S, Lamber, MS, Beck, O. “Method validation and application of a liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry method for drugs of abuse testing in exhaled breath” Journal of Chromatography B, Volume 985, 15 March 2015, Pages 189–196

Image courtesy of BrianHolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net




Written by Deborah Tallarigo, PhD

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