Cocaine breathalyzer in development

Posted May 10, 2018 by Tim Sandle
Scientists are close to launching the world's first cocaine breathalyzer, a breath test to assess whether an individual has taken the strong and addictive stimulant.
File photo: A pile of cocaine powder
Courtesy U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
The basis of the new device is a low-cost chip which can detect cocaine on the breath of person in a matter of minutes. the device will be targeted at law enforcement services, initially in the U.S. Increasing the sensitivity of the chip to detect the narcotic on the breath builds upon work already performed, whereby the chip can detect the drug from extracted blood, urine or saliva samples.
The technology behind the chip is surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy. This concerns the scattering by molecules adsorbed on rough metal surfaces. The science examines the inelastic scattering of a photon by molecules which are excited to higher vibrational or rotational energy levels.
The development comes from the University at Buffalo, New York. According to lead scientist Professor Qiaoqiang Gan: "Currently, there is a great demand for on-site drug testing. The high-performance chip we designed was able to detect cocaine within minutes in our experiments. "
Use of the breathalyzer has also picked up attention in the U.K. according to the BBC. Joshua Harris from road safety charity Brake told the news outlet: "These findings have the potential to improve the speed and accuracy of roadside drug testing...We are calling upon the government to prioritize the type-approval of roadside screening devices that can detect all banned drugs and step up roads policing levels to deter offending."
The development of the breathalyzer has been described in the journal Small Methods. The research paper is headed: "Superabsorbing Metasurfaces with Hybrid Ag–Au Nanostructures for Surface‐Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy Sensing of Drugs and Chemicals."
In related news, monitors are being developed to assess how much alcohol a person has consumed. The initial aim of the technology is at people who are on alcohol rehabilitation programs. See: "Are you willing to be fitted with an alcohol monitor?"