Generational amnesia – that’s the term Bridget Brennan uses to describe one of the causes of the recent rise of heroin use. It is as if today’s culture has no memory of the devastating toll the drug took on those who used it a generation ago.
And who is using the highly addictive narcotic today? In many cases, it is educated younger people living in middle class or blue collar suburbs, Brennan said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on Thursday.
Brennan is a prominent figure in the fight against heroin and other narcotics. She doesn’t take on those individual users. Rather she aims for those at or near the top of the pyramid as she put it, of illegal narcotics trafficking. A Milwaukee native, she has been the special narcotics prosecutor for the city of New York since 1998. Her office averages 3,000 indictments a year, many against those leading or working in drug trafficking networks. She has worked with law enforcement at many levels and across international boundaries.
Brennan told Gousha that the flow of heroin into the United States has shifted largely from originating in Asia to originating in South America. There are many routes to get drugs into a place such as the New York area, even with the successes law enforcement has in fighting shipments. She described how agents she worked with frequently break up heroin mills “hiding in plain sight” in nice suburban or urban residential areas. The mills are where large quantities of heroin are taken and then broken down, mixed, and packaged for sale to individuals. (One thing often left behind when such mills are raided is a large quantity of small coffee grinders with burned out motors, she said.)
In the big picture, prosecution efforts such as the ones she is involved in make a difference and are part of the reason why crime has fallen sharply in New York, Brennan said. She said the city is much less menacing now than when she moved there to take a job as a prosecutor after graduating from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1983.
But, Brennan said, “there is no shortage of business.” The growing use and abuse of prescription narcotics, often aided by doctors who write unwarranted prescriptions to make money, has helped spur narcotics addiction and increased prosecutions, Brennan said. The supply of heroin and similar drugs is at flood levels in certain parts of New York, driving down street prices.
How do you fight this? Brennan said anti-drug education efforts, targeted at teens, are important, particularly if they include messages from celebrities or others who young people will listen to. She also said, “I’m a strong believer in rehabilitation.” And she is, of course, committed to going after those providing the drugs, and the bigger the target, the better.
Among those in the audience in the Law School’s Appellate Courtroom were Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, former District Attorney E. Michael McCann, and members of Brennan’s family, including her mother. Click here to view the session online.