Drugs that have false readings on blood-alcohol tests

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Drugs that have false readings on blood-alcohol tests
When a reading is wrong. (Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

Nobody needs to be told that drink-driving is a very stupid thing to do. Sometimes, it can be downright tragic and deadly. And, in terms of punishment, those who insist on getting behind the wheel of a vehicle after drinking deserve everything they get. But, just occasionally, a person arrested for failing a police-initiated breathalyser test may not be over-the-limit at all. Incredibly, they may not even have drunk any alcohol in the slightest. The reason for the blunder: they are taking prescribed drugs and medications that have caused erroneous readings on the breathalyser.

Defining drunkenness

The breathalyser was first used, in the UK, in 1967, with the passing of the Road Safety Act. The creation of the act coincided with the drafting of official guidelines for police regarding how much alcohol a person can legally drink while driving. Currently, that limit is 35 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath. But how and why can erroneous readings surface? Before getting to the matter of the specific kinds of drugs that may cause incorrect readings when a person is breathalysed, it's important to understand how a breathalyser works. As its name suggests, the breathalyser analyses the level of alcohol on a person's breath and nothing else.

Drugs that have false readings on blood-alcohol tests
From test to arrest. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Levels of error

When a breathalyser test is undertaken, it is designed to determine the amount of alcohol in the breath that is coming specifically from the lungs. The reason being that after alcohol is swallowed and reaches the stomach, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and finally appears in the lungs. In terms of the kinds of prescription drugs that have led to erroneous breathalyser readings, they are medications designed to treat asthma -- a condition that can provoke minor to major inflammation in a person's airways, and may cause a variety of distressing and frightening symptoms, included laboured breathing, discomfort and tightness in the chest region, and chronic coughing.

Drugs that have false readings on blood-alcohol tests
Driving under the influence. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Asthma and arrest

Among the most common drugs used to treat asthma are Salmeterol, Salbutamol, and Budesonide. Chiefly, there are two means by which asthma drugs enter the body. One is by by the patient directly inhaling the medication. The other is a process in which the product is chemically propelled into the lungs. It is this latter category of drugs that are theorised to have provoked bogus readings in breathalyser tests carried out by police officers. The reason being that some asthma inhalers have an alcohol content of around 30 percent. But why should that be the case? The answer is very simple. The alcohol contained in an asthma inhaler acts as the propellant to ensure the drug reaches the lungs of the patient.

Inhaling alcohol

In terms of quickly helping an asthma sufferer to breathe normally, propelled medication is a good thing. There can be a very unfortunate side-effect, however. A breathalyser may interpret leftover alcohol propellant in the mouth and throat as having come from the lungs, rather than from the asthma inhaler. That mistaken interpretation may result in the loss of your driving licence. Therefore, if you have taken any kind of chemically propelled asthma medication up to an hour before being breathalysed, tell the police officer administering the test. Also ensure that a blood test is performed, as alcohol contained in an asthma propellant cannot be absorbed into the bloodstream. So, if you haven't been drinking, and the only form of alcohol in your body is that derived from the inhaler, your blood should be free of intoxicants.

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