IWYC focuses on education and awareness in addiction speaker series

The next talk will address the adolescent brain.

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Dr. Ruth Potee — Courtesy YouTube

The Island Wide Youth Collaborative (IWYC) is inviting the public to a series of talks about addiction. The talks are designed to impart information on the highly charged subject in an easily digestible and sympathetic manner. On Thursday, March 23, Dr. Ruth Potee, a Greenfield physician and sought-after speaker, will speak about addiction and the adolescent brain.

Among the ways that the IWYC is addressing the escalating concern about substance abuse and other at-risk behavior among the Island’s young is to focus on education and awareness building.

Last month the IWYC launched a series of talks addressing addiction and other at-risk behaviors. The first of the 2017 talks was titled “Child Trauma and Addiction,” led by Dr. Heather Forkey of UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center and UMass Medical School. A compelling speaker, Dr. Forkey focused on solutions as well as causal relationships.

In a similar vein, on Thursday, March 23, Dr. Potee, a nationally recognized addiction expert, will present a talk called “Parenting to Prevent: The Effects of Substances on the Developing Adolescent Brain” at the MVRHS library.

One thing that Dr. Potee stresses is the importance of recognizing addiction as a disease — a disease of the brain. “It’s time to stop saying, ‘Pick yourself up and get over it,’ and provide effective treatment,” she says in one of her videotaped talks on YouTube.

She points out that there are three major factors that predict addiction — genetics, early exposure to substances, and childhood trauma. Any one of them can have a huge impact on a young adult’s predisposition to addiction, but no one of the factors need be in place for a problem to arise. “Each individual and each case is unique,” she says.

Although Dr. Potee is considered one of the preeminent experts on opioid addiction, she addresses substances ranging from tobacco and sugar to cocaine and other hard drugs. She also makes a point of explaining that marijuana, especially in its newer, more potent forms, can also negatively impact the adolescent brain. Dr. Potee asserts that the areas of the brain affected by drugs and other addictive substances are not fully developed until age 24, and she stresses the importance of deterring early drug and alcohol abuse.

Dr. Potee’s talk will focus not only on the impact of substance use on the brain, but also on strategies parents may employ to assist their children in making healthy decisions. Watching her online videos, it’s clear that she is an expert in the science of addiction who has a talent for presenting information in an accessible, engaging fashion.

The public talk will be followed by presentations for students from grades 7 through 12.

“I can’t stress enough what a dynamic speaker she is,” says Susan Mercier, IWYC program director, who saw Dr. Potee speak in Hyannis last fall. “It’s very hard to book her. She’ll offer concrete information about talking to your kids.”

Ms. Mercier believes that the talk will be instructional for all Islanders, not just parents and educators. “I think that even if you don’t have kids, we all have young people in our lives,” she says. “If you look at it through that lens, this is not just a school and parent issue. This is a community issue.”

The IWYC, whose partners include the Youth Task Force, YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard, Martha’s Vineyard schools, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, and M.V. Community Services, was launched in May 2015 primarily as a means of addressing a growing problem on the Island. “Obviously substance abuse is a national epidemic, and of particular concern in the state and on a local level,” says Ms. Mercier. “Much of our programming focuses on a prevention point of view. That’s the type of programming that people are asking for, and where we see ourselves being able to address the community as a whole.”

The IWYC’s mission is to “provide services for at-risk families, young people, and community members.”

“Parenting to Prevent,” a talk by Dr. Ruth Potee, Thursday, March 23, at 6 pm in the MVRHS library. The talk is free, and everyone is welcome to attend.