Dr. Robert K. Brooner, an internationally recognized expert in addiction treatment and research who had been head of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center’s Addiction Treatment Services and Center for Addiction and Pregnancy, died of metastatic cancer Feb. 26 at his Millsboro, Delaware, home. The former longtime Clarksville resident was 71.
“He was known internationally because of a program he built and led at Hopkins that took existing evidence and designed care that was assigned to patients in order they would achieve a positive outcome,” said Dr. Kenneth Stoller, professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral science at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who is also the director of the Johns Hopkins Broadway Center for Addiction.
“People can change if they are provided the right treatment, and the more people who have access to treatment, fewer people will die,” Dr. Stoller said. “His work that was published internationally was well known and significant, and his program was the gold standard and way beyond his time.”
In a subsequent email, Dr. Stoller wrote: “Dr. Brooner’s death is not only a loss for family and friends — it is a loss on the national level, for those who are on the front lines in research and treatment to address the devastating opioid crisis, and even more so in the local and regional level, where he practiced clinically.”
Robert Kevin Brooner, son of a career Navy officer, and Mary Elizabeth Koger, was born in Norfolk, Virginia. After his parents divorced when he was 6, he moved with his mother to Perryville, where she managed a diner.
Dr. Brooner was a 1970 graduate of Perryville High School, where he had been a “super bright” but indifferent student, said his wife of a decade, Kori Kindbom, a former clinical assessment officer at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where she first met and worked with her future husband 31 years ago.
“He was just a very interesting guy,” she said.
Identified as something of a nonconformist by school authorities, he refused to cut his hair and therefore “wasn’t allowed to walk across the stage at graduation,” Ms. Kindbom said. “And when they gave him tests, they couldn’t believe he aced them, so they would give him another.”
Because he had studied auto body and fender repair in high school, after he graduated he worked in that field before becoming a nurse’s aide at a local hospital. He then traveled to the West Coast where he worked in a military hospital where a colleague, a psychologist, persuaded him to become a licensed practical nurse.
“He still always kept his license up to date,” his wife said.
Determined to get a college education, Dr. Brooner enrolled at the University of California at Santa Cruz where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1978 in psychology, and seven years later, his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at what is now the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University.
He completed a clinical internship in medical psychology in 1984 from the Johns Hopkins University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and two years later was an assistant in medical psychology, from the same department. From 1999 until his retirement in 2021, he was a professor of medical psychology.
From 1986 to 1992, he was an assistant professor of medical psychology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and from 1992 to 1999, was an associate professor of psychology.
He was also an associate professor of obstetrics in the medical school’s department of obstetrics and gynecology from 1992 until his retirement from Hopkins in 2021.
He was the principal “architect of the Addiction Treatment Services and Center for Addiction and Pregnancy programs at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center,” according to a Friends Research Institute profile of Dr. Brooner, where he had been a senior research scientist since 2021.
“He also led the development, implementation, and oversight of the first outpatient substance abuse disorder treatment program for the Intramural Program of NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse,” according to the profile. “He was an investigator on countless NIDA and other grant-making research awards, and was the author of more than 150 peer-reviewed publications reporting their findings.”
Said Dr Stoller: “Dr. Brooner created a system of adjustments that needed to be made and personalized it for addicts, and he succeeded in bringing treatment of addicts into the general medical field. He figured out a way and considerably tailored it to the needs of each individual patient and that they could change over time and had the power to make those changes.”
He said Dr. Brooner’s method was to start “with a low dose of counseling and if they needed more, there would be more. He was direct with them, but never judgmental, and he did it in a way so they would buy into it.”
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He was gifted when it came to dealing with patients.
“He was always a 100 percent with you, his patients and colleagues. He was never distracted. He paid attention and understood the relationship between feelings and thought, and he linked them together,” Dr. Stoller said. “He was always extraordinarily hopeful when talking to patients. He didn’t like nihilism.”
In addition to his work at Hopkins, in 1985, Dr. Brooner was appointed the first clinical director of the Substance Abuse and Treatment Program at the old Fallston General Hospital in Bel Air, now Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.
In 2021, he was named special assistant to the director and president of Man Alive Treatment Center Inc. in Baltimore.
Dr. Brooner enjoyed attending his daughter’s athletic events, working in his yard, caring for his car and watching movies.
Funeral services were held March 10 at the Harry H. Witzke Funeral Home in Ellicott City.
In addition to his wife, Dr. Brooner is survived by three daughters, Avery I. Langsner of Middle River, Quinn S. Kindbom of Millsboro, Delaware, and Lisa Davis Brooner of Maryland; and a sister, Robin Hendrickson of West Virginia. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.