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Did America's First Drug Czar Secretly Supply Dope to Sen. Joe McCarthy?

During the 1950s Red Scare, America's first drug czar fed the opiate addiction of America's most feared senator.

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The last mainstream mention of McCarthy’s morphine addiction that this writer has uncovered dates back to 1989, when the  Philadelphia Inquirer attacked scholarship supporting Cheshire’s findings. By now, of course, anyone who could have authoritatively confirmed the story is long dead. 

McCarthy was undoubtedly a man who wrestled with more than his share of private demons that he was only too eager to unleash on the nation. His exploitation of his country’s greatest fears have made him a polarizing figure. To most, he is a cautionary tale about the abuse of power. But to some, he is an exemplar of the principle that, as the late Arizona senator Barry Goldwater famously said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Given the current climate of polarization in our national politics, it is not surprising that McCarthy-as-myth has made a comeback.

For the recovery community, there is a special question in the story of Joe McCarthy. Whether omitted by those who would rehabilitate him or advertised by those who would vilify him, his addiction is viewed as a shameful "scarlet letter." For those of us who view addiction as a disease to be treated with sympathy—and who reserve none of that emotion for McCarthy the demagogue—coming to terms with McCarthy the addict is, to say the least, challenging.

Matt Harvey is an award-winning freelance journalist whose writing has appeared on, Black Book, the New York Post and the New York Press among other publications. He lives in Manhattan.

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