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New Breath Test Detects Opioid Use

A test to detect opioid drugs in exhaled breath has been developed by engineers and physicians at the University of California, Davis. A breath test could be useful in caring for chronic pain patients as well as for checking for illegal drug use.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis have developed an interesting way to combat the opioid crisis. The group, comprised of engineers and physicians, have developed a test that can detect opioid drugs in exhaled breath.

"There are a few ways we think this could impact society," Professor Cristina Davis, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC Davis, who led the research along with Professor Michael Schivo from the UC Davis Medical Center, said in a release. The work is described in a paper published in the Journal of Breath Research Oct. 3.

Doctors and nurses treating chronic pain may need to monitor patients to make sure they are taking their drugs correctly, that their prescribed drugs are being metabolized properly and that they are not taking additional medications. Blood tests are the gold standard: a reliable, noninvasive test would be a useful alternative.

For the test developed by postdoctoral researcher Eva Borras, Davis and colleagues, subjects breathe normally into a specialized collection device. Droplets in breath condense and are stored in a freezer until testing.

Davis' lab uses mass spectrometry to identify compounds in the samples. The researchers tested the technique in a small group of patients receiving infusions of pain medications including morphine and hydromorphone, or oral doses of oxycodone, at the UC Davis Medical Center. They were, therefore, able to compare opioid metabolites in breath with both blood samples and the doses given to patients.

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