Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this story incorrectly identified the watchdog group that Tom Gosinski signed an agreement with as the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Its correct name is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. This version has been corrected.
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A Tangled Story of Addiction

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.


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