Briella Johanne Brooks was born healthy, with blue eyes and fine dark hair. At 33 days old, she ingested methamphetamine and died.
A fatal inquiry report released Monday said Briella consumed a deadly quantity of the drug more than four years ago inside an Edmonton home.
“Briella was just one month old; she was a perfect baby girl,” Justice Jody Moher said in the report.
“(Her) death was profoundly tragic. The poisoning death of any child by illegal drugs is made more tragic by the undeniable fact that by their very nature such deaths are preventable."
On an early morning in July 2019, Briella’s mother, Denise Letendre, was feeding the baby on a living room couch.
Letendre then fell asleep with Briella, said the report. They were both covered with a light blanket.
The baby’s father, Steven Brooks, woke up hours later and roused Letendre. They found the baby unconscious and unresponsive.
The report said the parents attempted CPR and called 911. First responders arrived minutes later and found Briella in cardiac arrest with no heartbeat.
The baby was later pronounced dead in hospital.
The report said it was originally believed the child had accidentally suffocated.
During an autopsy, pathologist Dr. Cecilia Wu found no injuries or infections.
Toxicology samples later revealed Briella had “a high level of methamphetamine and its metabolite amphetamine” in her body, the report said.
However, the report concluded it’s not possible to know how the baby ingested the drug or the exact amount.
Wu found Briella could have consumed the drug either through a contaminated bottle or from her mother’s breast milk. However, Wu said the milk couldn’t have been the only source.
Dr. Craig Chatterton, Alberta’s chief toxicologist, told the inquiry that the baby could also have ingested the drug from a pacifier or fingers placed in or near her mouth.
“An additional mechanism of ingestion would have been necessary to account for the levels of methamphetamine detected,” the report said.
“Dr. Chatterton also concluded that ‘a heavy oral dose would be required’ to result in the levels found after Briella’s death.”
He told the inquiry there’s no safe amount of meth for a baby.
In 2022, a dog owned by Briella's father also died from meth poisoning, said the report.
The judge described Briella is an innocent victim of the meth epidemic overtaking Alberta communities.
“(She) cannot have died without all of us knowing of her loss,” Moher said.
“We must all stand for her so that the profound tragedy of her death from methamphetamine poisoning is known. We must do more.”
She recommended the province spend more on substance abuse programs and increase resources at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The office has been overwhelmed, resulting in delays providing toxicology results, the judge said.
She added that results provided sooner would ensure prompt investigations and increase awareness of children dying of drug poisoning.
“Family members of loved ones dying of possible or suspected drug toxicity are often desperate for answers in the immediate aftermath of the death of a family member. This is especially true with the unexplained death of an infant or child,” Moher said.
“The police investigation was significantly delayed when the toxicology results were not available shortly after Briella’s death.”
In 2016, the office reported 13 drug poisoning deaths for every 100,000 people in Alberta. That has grown to 41 deaths for every 100,000 people in the first half of 2023. More than half of the drug poisonings were due to meth.
“Dr. Chatterton noted that for the first time in his tenure at the (office), illegal drugs have exceeded alcohol as a positive finding in toxicology reports,” the report said.
In an emailed statement, the province said it’s reviewing the recommendations and intends to provide grieving families with timely answers.
“The death of Briella is deeply tragic and our thoughts and condolences are with her family,” the Ministry of Justice said.
Lawyers made exhaustive efforts to reach Briella’s parents, but they did not participate in the inquiry, the report said.