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Irish American duo at forefront of 21st century war on drugs

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Illegal Drugs
Singer Whitney Houston’s death brought with it a whirlwind of emotions -- shock that an artist of such skill and passion would leave us so soon; confusion that a life of such promise could end amid reports of booze and prescription pills; and sadness, for the family, fans and apparently troubled young daughter she left behind.

And, let’s face it, there is anger, too. Very few of us can understand what it means to live a life of glamour and privilege.

And that, of course, is the point. Celebrities can go on and on about the pressures and expectations of such a life.

The rest of us, the 99 percent, can’t help but focus on the fact that these people have made enough money to literally do anything they want.

Most of us spend our lives toiling for just a precious few moments of freedom.

And yet, many troubled celebrities swap their hard-won freedom for the fog of booze and pills.

Of course, it is not just the rich and famous who O.D. on oxycodone. The abuse of prescription pills has exploded in recent years.

Enter Terence J. O’Leary and Bridget Brennan. The Irish American duo are at the forefront of the 21st century war on drugs.

Late last year, O’Leary, a graduate of Loyola College in Maryland and Seton Hall University School of Law, was appointed the head of the New York State Health Department's Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement (BNE).
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O'Leary had served as a prosecutor for the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York, which just so happens to be run by Brennan.

"Crimes involving the illegal use and distribution of prescription drugs are a public health threat that demands the investigative and prosecutorial experience that Terence O'Leary brings to this position,"
Governor Andrew Cuomo said at the time of O’Leary’s appointment back in November.

"He has a proven track record in fighting illicit drug trafficking and an understanding of the need for new public health strategies to combat these crimes."

The BNE is charged with protecting the public by identifying the use and trafficking of illegal prescription drugs. It is also designed to help doctors and other prescribers prevent the distribution of controlled substances.

According to Cuomo’s office, O'Leary, 36, will be expanding the Department of Health’s initiatives to combat the theft of prescription drugs.

For nearly 15 years now, Brennan has served as New York City’s top narcotics prosecutor, with her office handling nearly 3,000 drug cases a year.

Brennan served as O'Leary's supervisor while he served at the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s office. Brennan has said, "Terry O'Leary is an extremely intelligent and experienced attorney with a strong background in investigative work.

“During his 10 years at the Special Narcotics Prosecutor's Office, most recently as senior investigative counsel, Terry followed the highest ethical standards and demonstrated true dedication and commitment to his work."

Brennan and O’Leary will continue working together on certain city-state cases.

It goes without saying, they have quite a challenge ahead of them. While pill-popping celebrities tend to garner lots of headlines, the street level use of prescription drugs is truly shocking.

From 1999 to 2008, deaths related to painkillers more than tripled nationwide from 4,000 to 15,000, according to an editorial published last week in the New York Daily News.

“In 2009 alone, prescription abuse produced almost 500,000 emergency room visits,” the paper adds.

In New York City, “pain medication abuse ballooned 40% … from 2002 to 2009. Across the state in 2010, doctors wrote an astonishing 22 million pain reliever prescriptions — a number that exceeded the entire population of men, women and children by three million.”

Perhaps the most notorious case is that of Dr. Stan Xuhui Li, who reportedly wrote up to 120 prescriptions as day, leaving as many as 10 patients dead.

In short, Brennan and O’Leary have their work cut out for them.

(Contact Sidewalks at tomdeignan@earthlink.net or facebook.com/tomdeignan)

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