Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cindy McCain’s Drug Addiction

She’s no Betty Ford.

In 1989, Cindy McCain had back surgery for ruptured disks. By her own admission, she became addicted to powerful painkillers—Vicodin and Percocet. Mrs. McCain spoke openly on television about her addiction, which had culminated in 1992 with an intervention staged by her parents. She told Jay Leno on the “Tonight Show” that she wanted to talk about the experience as often as possible, “because I don’t want anyone to wind up in the shoes that I did at the time.” She also penned a column about her addiction for Newsweek in 2001, and did an interview for Harper’s Bazaar.

As it turns out, however, Mrs. McCain’s openness about her addiction may have been the involuntary result of a yearlong DEA investigation into her drug use. Moreover, it is far from clear that addiction awareness and treatment are high on her list of First Lady priorities, should John McCain win in November.

Writing in the September 15 New Yorker, Ariel Levy says that the McCain campaign “has attempted to portray McCain’s past addiction to prescription painkillers and her public statements about it as a Betty Ford-style story of altruism and accountability.” However, in an investigation by the Washington Post into the circumstances surrounding Mrs. McCain’s 4-year bout with painkillers, reporter Kimberly Kindy writes: “Her misuse of painkillers prompted an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and local prosecutors that put her in legal jeopardy. A doctor with McCain’s medical charity who supplied her with prescriptions for the drugs lost his license and never practiced again. The charity, the American Voluntary Medical Team, eventually had to be closed in the wake of the controversy.”

The Washington Post probe, based in part on official county records in Phoenix, documented that Mrs. McCain obtained her drugs from her medical charity non-profit organization through the group’s medical director, who wrote prescriptions for her in the names of unsuspecting employees. The Phoenix New Times obtained excerpts from a journal kept by an employee of the American Voluntary Medical team. One such excerpt begins: “I do not know what Cindy is up to but it appears as though she is trying to use several doctors’ DEA #s so that she can acquire drugs for personal use....”

In 1993, the DEA began to take an interesting in Cindy McCain’s case. The DEA pursued the investigation for almost a year, during which Mrs. McCain hired John Down, the attorney who had defending her husband in the Keating 5 scandal. She faced several federal charges, including fraud and forgery, which could have resulted in a jail sentence of up to 20 years. According to the Post, “Down negotiated a deal with the U.S attorney’s office allowing McCain, as a first-time offender, to avoid charges and enter a diversion program that required community service, drug treatment, and reimbursement to the DEA for investigative costs.”

Mrs. McCain has not publically discussed the nature of the treatment she received as a result of the deal. The Washington Post article said that “the only public reference to treatment is her mention in the county investigator’s report of a one-week stay at the Meadows,” a treatment facility in Arizona.

First Lady Betty Ford went through a similar addictive ordeal with painkillers. From her biography at the National First Ladies’ Library:

“Her family became alarmed with Betty’s drinking and apparent addiction to pain pills. In 1978, just before her 60th birthday, they had an intervention. Thereafter, Betty Ford checked into the Long Beach Naval Hospital for treatment. The treatment was tough, but she later acknowledged that it probably saved her life.

“Betty’s experiences led her to create the Betty Ford Treatment Center in Rancho Mirage, California. From the start, Mrs. Ford was open with what she had gone through. The Center has become her greatest accomplishment. As the head of the Board, she continues to be actively involved in the Center.”

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