NCAD West Champion: Lesley Brooks, MD
An advocate for breaking down systemic inequities and a guiding force in the growth of addiction treatment services in Colorado, Lesley Brooks, MD, chief of addiction medicine for SummitStone Health Partners, has earned the distinction of NCAD Champion for 2021.
“In this country right now, we are having an important conversation about structural inequities and how we have structured opportunities for certain communities to achieve the outcomes that we are getting,” Brooks says. “Nowhere are those inequities larger than at the intersection of race, mental health and substance use. I could not be more excited to be working in this space.”
Each year, the NCAD Champion award is presented for exceptional and extraordinary performance and leadership achieved by clinical and executive personnel within the addiction recovery field. Brooks was presented with her award at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders West on Saturday. A second Champion for 2021 will be recognized at NCAD East in Baltimore in November.
During her childhood, Brooks’ parents championed civil rights. As a political science major in her undergraduate studies, Brooks says she envisioned attending law school and following in their footsteps—her father was an attorney, and her mother was a paralegal. While Brooks has gone on to work on solutions that address societal inequities in her career, she found a different path from her parents.
After completing her undergrad education, Brooks served in roles with an urban STD clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union, and she later volunteered for the Peace Corps before joining the Denver Department of Public Health.
Inspired by the population-level work she saw being done by doctors there, Brooks enrolled in medical school. Brooks completed her residency in 2011, as the prescription opioid crisis began to reach its apex, and she then joined Sunrise Community Health, a Federally Qualified Health Center, where she served in a variety of positions, including as chief medical officer from 2015 to 2020. While there, Brooks helped to lead a team in the development of Sunrise’s opioid safety program.
“That arc was about leaning into chronic pain and leaning into why we are prescribing opioids the way we are,” Brooks says. “You can’t do that work without also encountering and diving deeply into substance use. For me, that was so profoundly intersectional. I have always loved mental health and behavioral health. … It was natural for me to lean into those things.”
Since 2011, Brooks has also served as assistant medical director for the North Colorado Health Alliance, a position in which she has collaborated with multiple state organizations, and also taught fellow providers about safe opioid prescribing, how to recognize substance use disorder, and how to implement the use of medication-assisted treatment.
Brooks’ credentials also include serving as the co-chair of the Provider Education Work Group for the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, which leads the state’s coordinated response to the opioid and prescription drug epidemic, and she was responsible for helping to lead the development of a comprehensive MAT program for correctional facilities.
Within the past year as medical director, interim executive director for behavioral health services and chief of addiction medicine for SummitStone, Brooks led the launch of a new ASAM 3.7-level Circle Program with a 16-bed capacity, and she is helping to develop a 64-bed behavioral health facility set to open in Larimer County, Colorado, in 2023.
“We have an opportunity to deliver care in ways it has never been delivered before to folks with substance use and mental health crises,” Brooks says of the new Larimer center.
“We have an opportunity to organize our workflows and systems such that everyone is welcome, everyone has the opportunity to get care, and everyone has the opportunity to come back. … We have a real opportunity to deliver care differently, and I’m super excited about putting together a team of people who bring this perspective.”