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Cindy McCain's Rx Addiction and Advocacy

September 12, 2008
by Daniel Guarnera
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The Washington Post today has a front-page story about Cindy McCain's addiction to prescription painkillers in the early 1990s.

In early 1989, McCain, wife of the GOP presidential nominee, was suffering from back pain and stress from her involvement with a Senate ethics scandal involving her husband when she began taking Percocet and Vicodin. Soon she asked a doctor who worked for the medical charity she ran to make out prescriptions for her illegally, and McCain was subsequently investigated by the Drug Enforcement Agency (she was allowed to enter a diversion program that reportedly included treatment, although the details of her treatment are not entirely clear). Her misuse stopped in 1992 when her parents confronted her about her drug use.

The McCains broke the story to the press themselves in 1994, allowing exclusive interviews with reporters in Arizona.

Cindy McCain often mentions her experience with addiction when asked which issues she would champion if she became First Lady. "It's part of who I am," Cindy McCain told "Access Hollywood" earlier this year (video here). "I think it made me a better person and a better parent, so I think it's very important to talk about it."

The latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (released last week) found that despite decreases in most drug use, non-medical use of pain killers increased significantly in the past year for all age groups over 18. The 2007 Monitoring the Future survey found that one-in-ten high school seniors had used Vicodin non-medically in the past year.

Prescription drug abuse poses some unique prevention and treatment challenges. Any long-term solution will have to involve a concerted, coordinated effort by parents, consumers, prescribers, pharmaceutical companies, and addiction professionals. It will also require advocates willing to share their experiences and speak out in favor of treatment and recovery. Whether or not she becomes First Lady, here's hoping that Cindy McCain continues to raise her profile as a person in long-term recovery and an advocate for expanded prevention and treatment services.



The important question is whether a McCain administration would actively seek to add/pay for addiction treatment to public programs. If not, it's just talk. Addiction treatment shouldn't be just for the wealthy and priviledged.

Daniel Guarnera

Daniel Guarnera is the Director of Government Relations for NAADAC, The Association for...

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