Woman's overdose creates New Day Campaign

Posted at 7:34 PM, Sep 24, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-24 19:34:04-04

Elisif Bruun was just 24 years old when she died last February. 

Peter Bruun is Elisif’s father. He says, "Elisif was amazingly creative, caring and loving and she was very, very lost."

She was a daughter, sister, and an artist.  Here’s some of her work. Elisif was also an addict.

“There are really two Elisif's, the healthy one and the unhealthy one," says Peter.

Peter Bruun remembers the good and bad days.  Like many parents, Peter and his wife never imagined that path for their daughter.  They had noticed a change in high school, but still never thought much of it.

"Starting in her teenage years, she began to lose interest in things that used to excite her," Peter said.

Peter says prescription drugs were the doorway into a life of using.  But Elisif also dealt with depression and anxiety.  It was a trying time for the family. Elisif tried rehab, but began using again, stealing to get what she wanted.  She held jobs, then lost jobs and eventually made the decision it was time for a change.

“And Elisif said, every time I’ve made my own decision it’s led to pain and trouble, the only thing I haven't tried is letting someone else make decision for me. And I think I’m ready to do that," Peter said.

Elisif checked into Cooperriis in North Carolina, a healing community.

She loved it, loved the people.  She was thriving there. She became sober. Until one day, she wasn’t.

Elisif had called a friend in Philadelphia to send her drugs. Cocaine and heroin were sent in the mail, through a greeting card.

“She used once and died because her tolerance was down and she miscalculated or the heroin was stronger,” Peter said.

Mental illness and substance use

Elisif’s story is not uncommon.

Sherry Welch, Executive Director of NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore says 8.4 million Americans live with co-occurring disease. That’s when you live with both a mental illness and substance use disorder.

Welch says, “It’s not uncommon because often if one has a mental illness you may choose to self-medicate.”

Welch says adolescents are particularly vulnerable.

“Because their brain, where they make decisions, the frontal cortex, is not fully developed. So they start to make bad decisions -- so many that’s the drug use,” Welch says.

"One thing I am grateful for is just before she died she knew it wasn’t her fault.  She had medical evidence that she wasn’t weak and immoral. But, that she had a brain deficiency,” Peter said.

Charged with murder

Police charged the young man who sent the drugs to Elisif.  Sean Michael Harrington lived in Philadelphia.  He was extradited to North Carolina to face murder charges.

It's something Peter Bruun and his family do not want.

“Elisif stuck a needle in her arm, because she had a disease. Sean sent her the drugs because he had a disease. I'm not saying free ride for Sean, but he did not murder our daughter," Peter  said.

As of September, Harrington has still not gone to trial.

New day campaign

Peter and his family are still dealing in their own ways with the loss of Elisif. 

Peter, an artist, is turning the tragedy into a way to help others.  He created the New Day Campaign.

“It's an arts -based initiative in 2015 using art to challenge stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and addiction, making the world a more healing place."

For 92 days, there will be at least 60 public events and 15 art exhibitions throughout the Baltimore area.

To read more about Peter Bruun’s story, click here.