It’s common knowledge that some people who chose the recovery field as a career have had a substance abuse problem themselves. I’ve heard it said that people who’ve “been there” make the best counselors, or maybe they’re the ones that think they do), for obvious reasons. They understand the cravings, they’ve experienced the stigma, they’ve incurred the legal and financial problems – and they undoubtedly want to help others. But because they’ve been addicted, there’s always a chance of relapse. In fact, a post on www.behavioral.net cited a 40 percent relapse rate among addiction professionals.
When substance-abuse counselor Sherri Wilkins relapsed in November in Los Angeles County, CA, she got behind the wheel and took a life. As a result, she’s facing life in jail because it’s her third strike. She had two burglary convictions from an earlier time when she was abusing drugs. This time Wilkins hit a pedestrian and drove with him embedded in her windshield for more than two miles. She had a blood alcohol limit more than double the legal limit.
Two years ago she was charged with DUI after she tore down a power pole and dragged it, although an expert said the level of drugs was so low that he or she couldn’t testify to Wilkins’ being impaired and the case was dismissed.
This time she has racked up a number of serious charges : “felony charges of murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, DUI causing injury, drunken driving while causing injury and leaving the scene of an accident.”
Then there’s David Schubert, a former L.A. drug prosecutor – another professional you’d like to think would be a role model. He handled plea deals for Paris Hilton and Bruno Mars when these celebs were charged with possession of cocaine.
When he was charged with felony crack possession last February, Schubert called his behavior a tragedy and asked for a plea deal that would have meant probation and a chance to clear his record (and thus salvage his career, which he actually may be able to do, the article says at the end).
The judge was having none of it. Not only did he say Schubert wasn’t getting special treatment, he said the prosecutor was a disgrace to his oath. Schubert pled guilty to unlawful possession, and the judge gave him nine months in jail. To his credit, Schubert completed 60 days of inpatient substance abuse treatment and continued as an outpatient (or could that have been court-ordered?). His lawyer was considering an appeal or perhaps asking the judge to set aside the sentence.
I posted about Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers in the past, but I wonder—does the addiction and recovery field have a similar group for counselors? I’ve never heard of one, and in the behavioral.net post, the professional quoted – Dottie Saxon Greene, MSW, LCSW, LCAS, CCS, and assistant professor at Western Carolina University – said that the profession needs to “actively develop” peer assistance programs, so it sounds like none exist. Wilkins had a certificate in drug and alcohol counseling and wasn’t a physician; I assume someone with that credential would not be turned away. However, she has a prison sentence to serve.
The Fix website has an interesting article on substance abuse counselors relapsing. It’s not easy to see those we trust with our defense and our well-being fall prey to alcohol and other drugs, but as we know, no one’s immune, and relapse is part of the disease. Still, taking someone else’s life while under the influence is inexcusable.