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UMass Chan toxicologists Babu, Boyer discuss complexities of opioid crisis on WBUR’s Morning Edition

  Kavita Babu and Edward Boyer

Kavita Babu, MD, and Edward Boyer, MD, PhD, spoke with WBUR for its series on the opioid addiction crisis in Massachusetts.

As the opioid crisis reaches new heights, it also grows in complexity, as highlighted by two UMass Medical School emergency medicine and toxicology experts who spoke with WBUR for its ongoing series on the opioid addiction crisis in Massachusetts. Among the complicating factors are drug cocktails that many addicts are using to boost or prolong their high.

Kavita Babu, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine, commented on the complexity of treating patients with opioid addictions, saying that physicians not only need to be careful about prescribing opioids, but also about what other drugs they prescribe. She urges doctors to limit the supply of pills that might be abused in conjunction with opiates.

“We have to be careful that we’re not just treating the side effects of the opioids themselves,” Dr. Babu told WBUR reporter Martha Bebinger.

Another factor complicating the fight against opioid abuse is the limitations of naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, in treating patients who have overdosed while using a cocktail of drugs. Edward Boyer, MD, PhD, professor of emergency medicine, cautioned about naloxone's limitations.

While naloxone might temporarily reverse the effects of opioids, such as heroin, it might not have the same effect on other drugs in the person’s system if multiple drugs were ingested. The life-saving effect of naloxone only lasts 45 minutes, which might not be as long as the opioid intoxication, which could last for hours or days.

“If it’s heroin alone, [naloxone] probably works. The problem comes in that there are other drugs, which can affect your ability to breathe, more than just that dose of heroin alone. It’s called a synergistic effect,” said Dr. Boyer.

“I think that the best possible outcome is for someone to receive naloxone and then be transported to the Emergency Department,” Boyer told Morning Edition anchor Bob Oakes.

To read or listen to the complete stories on WBUR, visit:
Edward Boyer, MD, PhD: Massachusetts Doctor On The Power And Limitations Of Narcan
Kavita Babu, MD: Drug Cocktails fuel crisis