Brennan has committed herself and her agency to combating this crisis, not just on the streets but also in the legislature. Last summer she formed a special Prescription Drug Investigation Unit; the data it provided helped police home in on the Long Island drugstore shooter by matching him to records the team was compiling about a doctor who was allegedly pushing pills in Queens. Brennan has consulted with President Obama’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, and has been called to serve on several state and local task forces, most recently by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. And she has taken her fight public, offering herself up as an impassioned spokeswoman every time a high-profile prescription drug crime hits the news. A central part of Brennan’s mission is to push for stronger laws against the “pill mill” doctors and pharmacists who knowingly continue to provide painkillers to people who have clearly become addicted. She says such practitioners “ought to be punished like any other drug dealer.” In November she indicted the drugstore shooter’s doctor on multiple counts of criminal sale of prescriptions for a controlled substance and reckless endangerment (the physician has pleaded not guilty).
“This is the first drug epidemic to start with the medical profession,” says Brennan. “And it has to stop with them, too.”
LIFE IN BRENNAN'S hometown of Brookfield, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee, could not have been more different from that of 1970s mean-streets Manhattan. When asked about the crime situation while she was growing up, she jokes: “What crime situation? We lost the key to the front door and never locked the house again.” Around the time the office she now runs was being formed, Brennan was organizing her high school’s participation in the country’s first Earth Day celebration. She says her position in the family, along with a Catholic-school upbringing, inculcated a spirit of service.
“When my mother was having babies, my older sister and I would take turns staying home from school with the little ones,” she says. “We’d manage the house, do the laundry. It was the hardest job I ever had, because you’d have to get up before everybody else. There was an assembly line with the lunch bags.”
“She has an acutely developed sense of justice,” says her younger sister Maggie, who’s not at all surprised by her sibling’s career choice. “She also finds a lot of comfort in rules.”
Brennan’s mother, Mary, was an editor, and her father, Gale, a copywriter and children’s-book author. He was also a district organizer for John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. “My dad had us all doing literature drops,” she recalls.
Young Bridget was the “most adventuresome” of their set, says Jody Dugan Cabezas, one of Brennan’s oldest and closest friends. The pair competed in Junior Miss pageants in the hope of earning some scholarship money (they didn’t) but also ditched the junior prom at Divine Savior Holy Angels to go to an All-Star Wrestling event in Milwaukee. Crime may not have been on Brennan’s childhood radar, but her pleasant community wasn’t immune to the temptations of early-’70s drug culture. “When I was in high school, marijuana was huge and so was LSD,” she recalls, adding that she “never really liked” drugs. “I was certainly in plenty of situations where marijuana was being smoked,” she says judiciously. “But it really aggravated my asthma. So I wasn’t a big fan of it.” She also didn’t like the way drugs made people behave—a reaction that would have great resonance later in her career. Cocaine became popular when Brennan was an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin. “The way it was used by guys to get girls to have sex with them was kind of disgusting,” she says.