We need to understand how addiction affects brains

GREENFIELD — There was a mix of lawyers, judges, probation officers — all sorts of officers of the court present, and they were asked a simple question to start: Anyone try to quit smoking?

A few people raised their hands.

“Remember how hard it was to try to quit smoking?” Dr. Ruth Potee followed up. Several nodded their heads.

The tone was set at the Franklin County Justice Center Friday afternoon — addiction is tough to beat.

Potee, a local specialist in the opioid epidemic, was delivering a training on the physiology of addiction for the Mass. Trial Court staff and Franklin County Bar Association, who regularly encounter people afflicted with addiction.

Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan, and fellow member of the Opioid Task Force with Potee, delivered the afternoon’s introductions to the dozens present. He spoke of the challenges of dealing with people who are struggling with addiction, as the opioid crisis continues to plague the criminal justice system.

“They aren’t doing it because they’re weak,” Donelan said. “They aren’t doing it because they’re punks. They’re doing it because addiction is really hard and it changes the physiology of their brain.”

The sheriff plugged Potee’s training, which focused on understanding why dealing with addiction to opioids like heroin is so challenging for someone and how to best to get someone toward the right type of treatment.

“It’s going to change the way you do your job,” Donelan said in his introduction to the training. It’s going to change the way you see the men and women you work with, and I think you’ll enjoy your work more.

Professionals primarily from Franklin County, but also representing Hampden and Worcester counties learned how people with an addiction to heroin may not even be “chasing a high,” but rather just trying to “chase so that you feel normal.”

Potee tried to explain how dopamine receptors in the brain work. She told the basics: the body…

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