Lethal Weapon: Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan

Outraged at an epidemic of accidental addiction to prescription painkillers that’s causing devastation among users and bystanders alike, superstar narcotics prosecutor Bridget Brennan takes aim at a surprising new foe: the American medical establishment

by Nanette Varian • Editor { View Profile }
Bridget Brennan Dan Winters photo
Photograph: Opening and portrait photos by Dan Winters

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.

Originally published in the June 2012 issue

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Comments

zhang rendong06.15.2012

hmm, so beautiful she is.
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Coco Early06.13.2012

Wonderful, in depth article. As a Twin Cities resident, I believe the issues Bridget has taken on are everywhere in this country; not just NYC.
I applaud Bridget as a dedicated professional tackling tough issues.
She is an inspiration to me and my daughters.
Thank you Bridget,
Coco "Corky" Dugan Early

Rhonda Bayless06.05.2012

This article should scare anyone who reads it!

Rhonda Bayless06.05.2012

I tremble in my boots everytime i read about this issue, because the ONLY people that are affected is those in legitimate, chronic pain that are treated like criminals because 'tylenol' doesn't do a damn thing for the type of pain I am describing. Until this lady ends up in this type of pain, and she will one day, of course she will be treated appropriately due to her holier than thou job of 'busting addicts' which will be exactly who she is when that day comes. Until then, she can be free from feeling any discomfort and sleep well at night knowing she's single handedly stopping doctors from treating their patients due to 'accidental' addiction that folks in her family have experienced. Be afraid, be very afraid. All this does is send people who can no longer obtain their legal pain medications down to the corner to the heroin dealer, because people will do ANYTHING to stop the kind of pain I speak of. If you doubt this, then your day has not yet arrived. Just find one person anywhere who suffers from chronic, dibilitating pain and you will know what I speak of. This lady is 100 times more scary than the worst addicts I've ever assisted in getting help. Her brand of help is aresting her way out of this 'problem', throw away the key then suffer or die, just as long as she can justify her job, and the government subsidized prison system that pays her.


"Wake up. Don't you see whats going on." I hear you, loved the article on the narcotics Prosecuter Bridget Brennan taking a hard line on the Medial Establishment for over perscribing pain killers.
I picked up the June 2012 issue of More Magazine a week after I read an article in the NY Daily news dated, Friday May 18th regarding Mary Richardson Kennedy's suicide.
So much for Law Enforcement to do now adays to have to get into the Medical establishment that all doctors take an oath to cause no harm. So what the heck were the doctors thinking that according to the Daily News, "Her doctors who were well meaning were trying mightily to find the correct mix of medications to help her and they failed repeatedly.", according to her sister Kerry Kennedy.
Granted I don't follow the Kennedy family and I'm not familiar with all the details however the more and more I read articles about people and drugs the more dismayed I become.
The article in More magazine was clearly focusing on persciption pain killers, however the American Citizen has become inindated with drugs. We used to be worried about street drugs, illegal drugs, dealers, influencing children, inner city, and wealthly suburbs. Now if your sad, something tragic happened, it looks as though the first advise given is to pop a pill. What the neck is wrong with everybody. Bad things happen, I'm not completely against medication, but really they are going to have to deal with it a some point, or be on cronic pain killers for the rest of their life.
It seams to me that no one is teaching people that pain is part of life, bad things happen. There are lots of complications out there and everyone's life is different. No two pains are the same. I'm not talking about constant therapy, but I do believe that the painkillers have side effects and the one most alarming is the one for depression that we all see on T.V. One, again, One of the side effects is it may cause people to consider suicide. Come on people. It's too bad the pharmaceutical establichment doesn't have to take that same oath to cause no harm.
I must also agree with Brennan's closing comments that "she won't consider myself a crusader on any issue because I'm always a little skeptical." There are gray areas. The answer is not always balck and white. Right and Wrong. My point is there is pain in life, physical and emotional. Physcial you try your best to fix the problem, emotional you go through the grieving process. It's part of living.

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