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 would disagree with that characterization. Neither she nor Kolodny is calling for an outright ban on prescribing opioids for chronic pain, but they would like to see them used only as a drug of last resort—and only with careful monitoring by a physician trained in addiction-risk management. They want patients properly informed about the drugs’ dangers, and prescriptions tracked in a way that allows both health and law-enforcement professionals to monitor the use—and abuse—of these powerful medicines.

The White House has called for a new opioid-risk-management plan for doctors by the end of this year and for prescription drug monitoring programs in all 50 states by 2014. As More went to press, 37 states had some sort of monitoring program in place; 11 had passed legislation authorizing such programs, but they were not yet up and running.

BRIDGET BRENNAN WANTS TO MAKE SURE her prosecutions matter in the widest possible sphere. It’s all part of what she calls a holistic approach. In addition to mandatory physician training, better monitoring and stronger legislation, her wish list includes, not surprisingly, a vigorous public education campaign—not only about how to use opioids wisely but also about how to dispose of unused pills safely (for tips, go to more.com/drugs).

Even as she targets a more elite type of dealer, the “pill mill” doctor who dispenses misery instead of succor, Brennan is already thinking ahead to the collateral damage, brainstorming with her network of rehab providers and law-enforcement colleagues on how to help the patients of the physicians she’s about to bust. The team decides to ask the city health department to create flyers to hand out to patients as the doctor is taken away.

“We wanted to make sure we had something tangible to give the people who were in the office that day,” says Brennan. “Information on where they could go for treatment. That’s what I mean. You don’t just make your arrest and that’s the end of it.”

I ask Brennan if she would call herself a crusader on the prescription drug issue. “Crusader?” she wonders. “See, I won’t consider myself a crusader on any issue because I’m always a little skeptical. I never go all the way over to the edge. However, I would say on this topic, I feel like I’m a voice out in the wilderness. Like I’m shaking people and saying, ‘Wake up. Don’t you see what’s going on?’ ”

*UPDATE: On May 3, 2012, the board of directors of the American Pain Foundation voted to dissolve the organization. The announcement on the organization's Web site cites economic difficulties. On May 8, the Washington Post reported on the launch of a Senate Finance Committee investigation into "the relationship between makers of narcotic painkillers and the groups that champion them," adding that it was unclear whether the group's announcement was related to the investigation.

Nanette Varian is a features editor at More.

To learn how to dispose of unused drugs safely, click here.

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Originally published in the June 2012 issue

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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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