The San Francisco Police Department will be the first department in the nation to pilot-test a new device that checks suspects’ saliva to see if they’ve been using fentanyl.

A little over a year ago, SF Mayor London Breed announced she wanted SFPD to start arresting people for being high on drugs as part of the ongoing Tenderloin and South of Market fentanyl crackdown. And the police department does have equipment that tests whether someone has been using cocaine, meth, or ketamine. But it was unclear whether these machines called the Dräger DrugTest 5000 could also test for fentanyl, which is the main driver of SF’s drug overdose crisis.    

So, the SFPD asked the manufacturer Dräger whether the machines tested for fentanyl. Dräger said no, they did not. They then asked if the police department wanted machines that tested for fentanyl, machines that would have to be invented.

“And I said, ‘Yes, we do want it to do fentanyl. There’s a large fentanyl problem in the United States, and I think there’s a market [for it],’” SFPD director of crime strategies Ryan Kao told the Chronicle. "And they said, ‘Well, maybe we could adapt it.’"

They have now adapted it, and the SFPD will now start testing suspects for fentanyl use, as the Chronicle reports. The Dräger DrugTest 5000 has a new upgrade that SFPD will be testing, in which samples of saliva are run through the portable machine to see if there is fentanyl in an individual's system.  

This is just an initial pilot program test, and the police department will not be charged for the devices. They can be taken along in squad cars, so drug tests can be performed in the field. Per the Chron, the machines will test for "fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, opiates such as heroin, oxycodone, methadone, benzodiazepines like Xanax, and ketamine.”  

It’s not mentioned how recent the fentanyl use would need to be to trigger a positive test. Fentanyl use can show in urine tests for up to 72 hours after usage, though this is a saliva test, which is likely to be more robust.

These new tests will probably raise another chorus of complaints that SFPD is focusing too much effort on prosecuting drug users, and not enough on apprehending drug dealers. In the last year of this crackdown, SFPD has arrested 1,284 suspected drug users, and 1,008 suspected drug dealers.

Though it seems a real question mark remains: Will the drug use charges stand in court with an untested technology? And more significantly, the accuracy of this device’s fentanyl detection capabilities has not been proven, though that’s part of what SFPD hopes to accomplish with this pilot experiment.

Related: Mayor Breed Reportedly Wants to Arrest People for Being ‘Under the Influence of Drugs’ [SFist]

Image via Dragerman