In September 2013 I had the unpleasant assignment of covering the memorial service of 10-year-old Alexandra Brooks. The service was held in the gymnasium of her school, where my daughter had also been a student. It was the same gymnasium where I sat through many Christmas pageants and spring concerts.
The little girl’s father, Bradley Brooks – who found his daughter’s lifeless body – sat sobbing in the front row of the bleachers. The girl’s mother, Pamela, who stabbed her daughter and then killed herself with the same knife, was not mentioned – although everyone quietly wondered…why? In 30-plus years in the newspaper business, I’ve covered a lot of horrific crimes. This one – that left me counting more than 100 stab wounds on the images in the autopsy report – really hit home. Many of us who had covered similar stories assumed Pamela had a psychotic crisis – perhaps had heard voices telling her to kill her daughter and herself. Or maybe she had taken some kind of drug – like bath salts – that made her do it. She must have at least been drunk.
We waited for the toxicology report. We shook our heads when we got it: Pamela Brooks had no illicit drugs or alcohol and only a prescribed dosage of Prozac in her system. What?
I began digging and learned Pamela and I had something in common. Both single moms, with one child – a daughter – who went to the same school. And we were both dual-diagnosed alcoholics. We both struggled with depression and alcoholism.
I have long argued that until very recently, dual-diagnosis had been ignored. You were either treated for depression or alcoholism, but not both simultaneously. It seemed that the medical community – and even the recovery community – refused to acknowledge that when these illnesses invade the same body, they are fused together.
They must be treated simultaneously.
I knew this because I had fallen victim to the belief that quitting drinking was all I needed to do. Life would be oh-so-much better if I quit drinking. But it wasn’t. After six years of sobriety I fell into a deep, deep depression. Finally, I was diagnosed with depression and treated by someone who understands the illnesses are inextricably linked.
According to a recent lawsuit that was filed against the psychiatrist and the substance abuse counselor who together were treating Pamela, they knew that she, too, was dual-diagnosed. The two “knew or should have known that Pamela Brooks was at risk of inflicting harm to herself, or to others… however, (they) failed to refer Pamela Brooks to a physician trained in the management of patients suffering from severe depression.”
This lawsuit is part of a recent trend in medical malpractice that lays blame on clinicians who treat addicts and alcoholics for the murders, suicides and accidental overdoses of their patients. More and more we are seeing doctors who run pain clinics being accused of writing willy-nilly prescriptions for opiates and benzos to addicts and alcoholics, who then overdose.
But this case is different. In the Brooks case we are seeing clinicians treating substance abuse being accused of failing to adequately treat depression. Maybe its just the other side of the same coin, but I wonder what a jury will think of this case.
I wonder when doctors who treat depression and substance abuse counselors who treat addiction will realize that they are not just responsible for one illness. They are responsible – morally and legally – for treating both.
gavel image available from Shutterstock.