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The Cocaine Breathalyzer is the Newest Tool in the ‘War on Drugs’

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One of the many jobs that police officers are tasked with is making sure that people are not driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, law enforcement’s ability to test for drug usage has been limited. Unlike alcohol testing, there have been minimal effective instruments to use to test if someone is under the influence of drugs — until now.

Now, a new low-cost breathalyzer is being developed that can detect cocaine in someone’s system within minutes of the test being conducted. The University of Buffalo has developed a chemical sensing chip that can be used by authorities via breath, spit, urine or blood, the New York Post reported.

“Currently, there is a great demand for on-site drug testing,” Qiaoqiang Gan, a professor of electrical engineering at the university said. “The high-performance chip we designed was able to detect cocaine within minutes in our experiments.”

The university hopes that this chip test can be implemented in the future to help detect some additional drugs such as opioids and marijuana. The recent legalization of marijuana in some states has resulted in a gray area of what is legal and what is not.

The chip’s creators are hoping that their device will help to dissuade people from driving while under the influence of certain illegal drugs.

“In the future, we are hoping to also use this technology to detect other drugs, including marijuana,” Gan added. “The widening legalization of marijuana raises a lot of societal issues, including the need for a system to quickly test drivers for drug use.”

According to the study released by the university, the technology behind the chip surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy has been used in the past but nothing to this magnitude.

“SERS holds a lot of promise for rapid detection of drugs and other chemicals, but the materials required to perform the sensing are usually quite expensive,” Nan Zhang, a Ph.D. candidate at UB explained. “The chips used for SERS are typically fabricated using expensive methods, such as lithography, which creates specific patterns on a metal substrate. We created our chip by depositing various thin layers of materials on a glass substrate, which is cost-effective and suitable for industrial-scale production.”