Later On

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Cindy McCain’s addiction

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The Washington Post today has a front-page story on Cindy McCain’s addiction and theft and what it led to. The story, by Kimberley Kindy, is well worth reading. It begins:

When Cindy McCain is asked what issues she would champion as first lady, she often cites one of the most difficult periods of her life: her battle with — and ultimate victory over — prescription painkillers. Her struggle, she has said repeatedly, taught her valuable lessons about drug abuse that she would pass on to the nation.

“I think it made me a better person as well as a better parent, so I think it would be very important to talk about it and be very upfront about it,” McCain said in an interview with “Access Hollywood.” In an appearance on the “Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” she said she tries “to talk about it as much as possible because I don’t want anyone to wind up in the shoes that I did at the time.”

In describing her struggle with drugs, McCain has said that she became addicted to Vicodin and Percocet in early 1989 after rupturing two disks and having back surgery. She has said she hid her addiction from her husband, Sen. John McCain, and stopped taking the painkillers in 1992 after her parents confronted her. She has not discussed what kind of treatment she received for her addiction, but she has made clear that she believes she has put her problems behind her.

While McCain’s accounts have captured the pain of her addiction, her journey through this personal crisis is a more complicated story than she has described, and it had more consequences for her and those around her than she has acknowledged.

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. Her husband was forced to admit publicly that he was absent much of the time she was having problems and was not aware of them.

“So many lives were damaged by this,” said Jeanette Johnson, whose husband, John Max Johnson, surrendered his medical license. “A lot of good people. Doctors who volunteered their time. My husband. I cannot begin to tell you how painful it was. We moved far away to start over.”

McCain’s addiction also embroiled her with one of her charity’s former employees, Tom Gosinski, who reported her drug use to the DEA and provided prosecutors with a contemporaneous journal that detailed the effects of her drug problems. He was later accused by a lawyer for McCain of trying to extort money from the McCain family.

“It’s not just about her addiction, it’s what she did to cover up her addiction and the lives of other people that she ruined, or put at jeopardy at least,” Gosinski said in an interview this week.

Cindy and John McCain declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this article. The McCain campaign also declined to comment.

Based on the limited details they have provided in earlier interviews, it is impossible to tell the full story of a difficult period in their lives. The following account of Cindy McCain’s prescription drug abuse and her and her husband’s efforts to deal with it is based on official records, including a report by the county attorney’s office in Phoenix, and on interviews with local and federal officials involved in the probe.
Politics and Philanthropy

In 1988, during her husband’s first Senate term, Cindy McCain founded the American Voluntary Medical Team, a nonprofit that sent volunteer doctors and nurses to provide free medical care in Third World countries and U.S. disaster zones. Cindy McCain served as president, operating out of her family’s business, a giant Anheuser-Busch beer distributorship in Phoenix owned by her father.

The McCains had married in 1980. They moved to Washington after he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1982. But she later returned to Phoenix, her home town, believing it was a better place to raise a family. Sen. McCain commuted home on weekends.

Even far from Washington, politics took a toll on Cindy McCain. In 1989, she was pulled into a Senate investigation that focused on her husband and four other senators who had intervened with regulators on behalf of savings-and-loan owner Charles Keating.

When questions arose about a vacation the McCains took to Keating’s home in the Bahamas, Cindy McCain, as family bookkeeper, was asked to document that they had reimbursed the Keatings, but she could not. She has repeatedly cited the stress of the Keating Five scandal and pain from two back surgeries that same year as reasons for her dependence on painkillers.

Her charity, AVMT, kept a ready supply of antibiotics and over-the-counter pain medications needed to fulfill its medical mission. It also secured prescriptions for the narcotic painkillers Vicodin, Percocet and Tylenol 3 in quantities of 100 to 400 pills, the county report shows.

McCain started taking narcotics for herself, the report shows. To get them, she asked the charity’s medical director, John Max Johnson, to make out prescriptions for the charity in the names of three AVMT employees.

The employees did not know their names were being used. And under DEA regulations, Johnson was supposed to use a form to notify federal officials that he was ordering the narcotics for the charity. It is illegal for an organization to use personal prescriptions to fill its drug needs.

“The DEA told me it was okay to do it that way,” Johnson told The Washington Post recently, in his first media interview about the case. “Otherwise, I never would have done it.”

The county report showed that Johnson told officials he knew it was wrong, but he wrote prescriptions at McCain’s request at least twice.

After Johnson wrote the prescriptions, McCain, and sometimes her secretary, picked them up from his home. Once they were filled, Johnson was supposed to maintain custody of the narcotics, but he said he let McCain control them and carry the medications in her luggage on charity trips.

No one tracked the narcotics in between the charity’s missions, the county report shows.

When the county investigator asked Johnson where the charity stored its narcotics, he said they were in a safe. When asked where the safe was located, Johnson said he had never seen it.

Officials with other medical charities contacted by The Post said it is unusual to distribute narcotics overseas, particularly in Third World countries where medical teams treat disease and infection rather than performing painful surgeries.

Some of the doctors and nurses who went on McCain’s missions said they never saw narcotics on AVMT trips and would have discouraged carrying such medications. “You don’t bring narcotics into a foreign country, especially with people who have machine guns around,” said Michele Stillinger, a nurse during a 1991 AVMT mission to Bangladesh.
‘I Noticed the Mood Swings’

Tom Gosinski, then 32, met Cindy McCain while working for America West Airlines and coordinating an AVMT flight to Kuwait. She hired him in 1991.

He grew close to the McCain family. He knew the domestic staff, as well as Cindy’s father, James, and mother, Marguerite.

Thinking he might one day write a book, Gosinski kept a journal that he later turned over to investigators. His entries about AVMT suggest that McCain’s behavior led employees to believe she was using drugs.

“Right away, I noticed the mood swings,” Gosinski told The Post in June. “She wouldn’t show up at the office, and we’d call her home. Her house staff would say she hadn’t come out of her room yet. It would be 11 a.m. or noon.”

As time wore on, his diary chronicled office concerns that McCain was taking pills from the charity’s inventory. Gosinski developed a code for her behavior, the county report shows. On days when his boss appeared to be in a good mood, he wrote “OP,” for “on Percocet.” Bad days were called “NOP,” for “not on Percocet.”

On July 20, 1992, he wrote, “I really don’t know what is going on but I certainly hope that Cindy does not get herself of [sic] AVMT in trouble.” …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 September 2008 at 10:29 am

Posted in Daily life, Election, GOP

3 Responses

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  1. Have you seen THE VIEW?

    Those women (though not brain dead former reality show zero, E. Hasselbeck, the right-wing demon on the show’s shoulder) asked him some of the most difficult questions I’ve heard at any point in this odious spectacle.

    The clips are below. There are four, I think; stick around for the appearance by a narco-zombified Lady McCain, in all her Sportswear-by-St-John, Valium-bot, barbiturate-barbie, “high” camp :

    She REFUSES to give Barbara an exact house count!


    13 September 2008 at 8:58 am

  2. unfortunately i was taking 32 paramol (UK branded codeine OTC drug) a day for over a year as it made me ‘happy’..also gave me headache so I took cheap stuff for those too. I did it also cos i didnt feel hungry and i lost over 25kg. It also helped me sleep at night which i had always had problems with. I had to trail around different pharmacies for my addiction and even got banned from two places for buying too many. Then i got them off the internet…3 packs a time. They made me more energetic and as i said happy, but they also messed up my body big time. I now have to visit the hospital a few times a years as my intestines are inflamed and bleeding and my stomach never feels right. I havent told them what i did for me to be like this as i am ashamed…they presume its colitis and give me pills for that. I wish i never did all that shit. I cost me a lot of money for what? A messed up body, pain, constipation, and i actually do feel better without. I still get tempted to get that high sometimes but prevent myself…i hope i can carry on with the willpower…


    14 June 2009 at 2:13 pm

  3. It’s hard to tell medical professionals things that one is ashamed of, but it’s also important to do it. They are not judgmental, and the treatment they can give you will be much better if it’s based on actual causes.

    I wish you good fortune with staying away from the pills.


    14 June 2009 at 2:23 pm

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