By Adrienne Moore


DAVIS (CBS13) — A new breathalyzer developed by UC Davis researchers can help identify opioids and other illegal drugs. It’s similar to the breathalyzers police use to identify drunk drivers.

Professor Cristina Davis is the chair of the Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering Department at UC Davis. She thinks this device could help save lives from opioid abuse and other drugs, using a single breath.

“You could potentially monitor for all kinds of drugs that people take for regular prescriptions,” Davis said.

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Davis, along with Dr. Nicholas Kenyon at UC Davis Health and a team of researchers, developed a less-invasive way to monitor a patient’s drug use by collecting their breath in a small specialized machine.

“We collect breath in a liquid format in this device and we chill it and then we collect it as a liquid and run it through a mass spectrometer to measure what’s in there,” Kenyon said.

What’s in there is a wealth of information that doctors, law enforcement, even patients and their family members could use.

“A device like this could help tell if they’re taking the drugs like they’re supposed to,” Davis said.

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Kenyon, a Professor of Medicine and the Chief of Pulmonary Critical Care & Sleep Medicine at UC Davis Health, said the military has expressed interest in the breathalyzer.

“We just had a meeting with firefighters. Firefighters wanted to know when is it safe to go back inside a burned home or the burned forest to help clean up?” Kenyon said.

The device could also be used by police officers during traffic stops and for parolees.

“Roadside testing for police departments, that’s a potentially critical use. But also people on parole that have to report that they are drug-free,” Davis said.

The goal now is to make the device smaller, more portable, and faster. Ultimately they want results in under a minute.

“I would love to say in one to three years that we actually have people using this for one of the application areas and I think from there it will grow. I think over a five-to-10-year time frame, that breath testing won’t just be a story, it’ll actually be at your doctor’s office,” Davis said.

Researchers say they’re trying to keep the price tag for the breathalyzer under $500.

Adrienne Moore

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