This Is Your Brain On Opiates

In a world saturated with drugs of every sort, Dr. Ruth Potee has a message for teens and their parents: “Don’t drink, smoke cigarettes, or take drugs until the brain is fully developed.”

While that isn’t the whole story, Potee’s no nonsense straight talk on the subject made it very clear – abstinence, or at the very least, delaying use of intoxicants should be the goal for parents and children.

On April 27, Potee gave a compassionate and riveting presentation sponsored by St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church and the Healthy Tri-Town Coalition, a presentation that filled ORRHS with people from every walk of life and every age group. Why? Because, according to Plymouth County District Attorney Tim Cruz, “Opiate addiction has no zip code.”

Before Potee launched into her insightful message, Cruz spoke to the audience, sharing his experiences and highlighting the importance of the work done by medical professionals such as Potee.

“We have 548 deaths every year in the state,” from drug overdoses, said Cruz. He stunned the audience when he said, “Plymouth County has the highest number of drug-related deaths of all counties.”

Cruz said it was critical to put pushers in jail. “They are out to hurt our kids for money.”

And while his tough-talk was at times jarring, beneath it one heard a dedicated officer of the court pleading for the safety of our youth.

He talked about programs designed to collect data that is vital to agencies dealing with addiction and the importance of continuity of care for the victims.

Potee’s presentation started with a brief overview of how the brain develops, especially between the ages of 12 and 24. Receptors in the brain cannot distinguish between naturally produced dopamine and stimulants that are introduced into the body such as THC, the chemical compound in marijuana that produces euphoria.

Once the young brain begins to experience repeated spikes of externally induced “feel good” sensations from drugs or alcohol, the brain no longer can produce dopamine, the naturally produced equivalent. Potee explained, “The brain becomes broken…. It’s trying to feel normal again by demanding more.”

Potee, while touching on opiates, heroin, and cigarette addictions, drove home the point that marijuana and alcohol were equally, if not more dangerous, to the majority of young people.

Diving into why kids become addicts, Potee said that trauma and poor mental health could be factors, but pointed to DNA, familial pre-disposition to addictive behaviors as a bigger problem.

Potee said it was imperative that conversations take place at home. Families with addictive behaviors are especially prone to passing down those same behaviors to their children. “Genetics accounts for fifty percent of all addictive behaviors in children,” she cautioned. “Your kids need to know that.”

Placing a high premium on the importance of frank, open dialog with children about parental drug and alcohol use, Potee said, “By avoiding early use, if you make it to age twenty-four, you probably won’t get addicted.” She explained that once the brain has had the opportunity to fully develop, the likelihood of addiction drops dramatically.

Over her years as a family medical doctor, Potee has become an expert in the field of addiction. Her commonsense approach to talking to teenagers about addiction, along with her message of hope for those struggling with addiction, has been heard by thousands through personal appearances as well as globally via the Internet.

And with teenage children of her own, Potee fully appreciates how difficult it can be to have meaningful conversations, but urged parents to try and “delay use as long as possible and talk about it.”

St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church, along with the Healthy Tri-Town Coalition, has developed a four-part community awareness series. The series encompasses deeper understanding through community meetings and education, a pledge to accept addiction as a disease thus removing the morality stigma placed on addicts, protecting senior citizens whose medications may be stolen and misused, and finally, demanding more from schools to educate young people.

Potee’s presentations are available on YouTube and you may also visit,, or call Reverend Cathy Harper at 508-748-1507 for more information, support, or guidance in dealing with opiate-related issues.

By Marilou Newell


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