Are BAC False Positives Real, And What Causes Them?


We’ve all heard the urban legends about people who were accused of being drunk, or worse – high, after consuming nothing more than innocuous food items or medicines. Like the woman who lost her job because she happened to eat a poppy seed muffin for breakfast on the day her boss made her submit to a random drug test, and it ended up with positive result for opioids in her system.


How about the man who was arrested for drunk driving because of the type of mouthwash he had used to freshen his breath just minutes before getting behind the wheel. But just because a story is an urban legend, doesn’t mean it’s not true! And when it comes to the issue of false positive BAC (breath test) readings, this is a very real problem!


There are currently a number of medications available, both over the counter and prescription, that can cause a person to have a false positive BAC reading. In some cases, this is because of the alcohol contained in the medication itself. But in other instances it has to do with the chemicals that are tested for by the BAC machine, which are also present in the medication.(In Michigan, a DataMaster machine is used for breath testing for alcohol.)


For people with cold sores, canker sores, toothache and other painful oral issues, be aware that Anbesol contains alcohol. The oral gel alone contains 10% benzocaine, 0.5% phenol, and an unbelievable 70% alcohol. If you happen to use a different brand, that doesn’t mean this warning isn’t for you. A number of other cold sore medications also contain alcohol, some as much as 90%.


What about people suffering from a cold, or the flu? Winter time is rife with those “sniffle and sneeze” illnesses, but be careful of what you use to treat your symptoms! Certain “sniffing, sneezing, coughing, aching” medications can cause you to get a much higher BAC if you happen to be pulled over and tested. Vicks Formula 44 contains 10% alcohol, and Formula 44D contains 20% alcohol.


NyQuil, which is widely used to help people sleep and to overcome the more unpleasant symptoms of colds and flus, contains 25% alcohol. From a BAC standpoint, this is a big deal. Additionally, even certain cough drops contain alcohol. While they don’t contain nearly as much as the liquid cough and colds meds, they can increase your BAC reading significantly and in some cases, tip you over the edge.


For asthma patients, there is also a significant risk. Albuterol, which is a prescription medication used in inhalers, contains methyl groups. Methyl groups, which are in essence three hydrogen atoms bonded to a carbon atom, are present in alcohol. BAC instruments such as our DataMaster, test for methyl groups in a person’s breath, indicating the presence of alcohol in the body. If you are an asthmatic who uses Albuterol, the DataMaster test will register the methyl groups in your medication and give you a false positive reading for the presence of alcohol in your system.


This is not a complete list by any means. There are a substantial number of medications on the market today that contain alcohol, and may affect your BAC reading if you are tested. This is not to say that you shouldn’t use medication if you need it, but rather, a simple caution that you need to be aware of the contents of your medications so as to avoid unnecessary DUI charges.


If you have been pulled over by the police and accused of drunk driving but are certain that your BAC result was affected by your medications, contact us immediately at 1 866-766-5245. We can help you.


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