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Frequently Asked Questions

Was Senator Joseph McCarthy a heroin addict?

In his 1961 book, The Murderers, Harry J. Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 to 1962, announced that he knew of a prominent member of Congress in the 1950s who was addicted to heroin. Anslinger went to the member of Congress and demanded that he stop using heroin. The Congressman refused and dared Anslinger to reveal the addiction, arguing that, if Anslinger did reveal the addiction, it would cause irreparable harm to the Free World. 

In order to keep the addiction secret, Anslinger arranged for the Congressman to receive a secret supply of drugs from a pharmacist.

Who was the Congressman?  Senator Joseph McCarthy, of anti-communist fame.

The case is mentioned in chapter 5 of the Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs.

Another noteworthy case of a distinguished addict was reported in 1962 by Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. "This addict," Commissioner Anslinger stated, "was one of the most influential members of the United States Congress. He headed one of the powerful committees of Congress. His decisions and statements helped to shape and direct the destiny of the United States and the free world." Commissioner Anslinger heard of this man's addiction, recognized the political damage that might follow exposure, and therefore arranged a continuing supply of drugs for the elderly Congressman from a pharmacy on the outskirts of Washington. When a nationally syndicated columnist got a tip on the story from the pharmacist, Commissioner Anslinger staved off exposure by warning the journalist that "the Harrison Narcotic Act provided a two-year jail term for anyone revealing the narcotic records of a drug store." 7 The Congressman died in office, still legislating, still addicted, and still unexposed. *

Further evidence came forth in a 1978 article in Ladies Home Journal:

In the past, Washington politicians have been suspected of using far more dangerous and compromising substances than marijuana or cocaine. Agents who worked under Harry J. Anslinger, Commissioner of the DEA forerunner, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, for 30 years, claim that the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy was addicted to morphine and regularly obtained his narcotics through a druggist near the White House, authorized by Anslinger to fill the prescription.

Anslinger, according to one of the retired agents, wrote about McCarthy's problem (without naming him) in The Murderers, a memoir the late commissioner wrote with Will Ousler, which was published in 1961. And Ousler today agrees with the agents. "Yes, I'm sure that is correct", he says. "Anslinger made a mention of McCarthy agt the time and turned away."

Two pages of the book were devoted to an addict who Anslinger said was "one of the most influential members of the Congress of the United States. He headed one of the most powerful committees. His decisions and statements helped to shape and direct the destiny of the United States and the Free World."

Anslinger said that he "learned on incontrovertible evidence that this legislative leader was a confirmed morphine addict who would do nothing to help himself get rid of his addiction. It was a delicate moment in world affairs. There was imminent danger the facts would become known and use to the fullest in the propaganda machines of our enemies."

In the book, Anslinger describes his confrontation with the congressman, who arrogantly refused medical help and insisted he would allow nothing to "interfere with him or whatever habits he wished to indulge." McCarthy defied Anslinger to cut off his source of supply, threatening to go directly to the pushers. "And if it winds up in a public scandal and that should hurt this country, I wouldn't care . . . the choice is yours."

Because the senator's addiction presented a grave threat to this country" and because the scandal could have hurt the country, Anslinger agreed to make available all the morphine necessary to maintain the congressman's habit.

"The lawmaker went on for some time, guaranteed his morphine because it was underwritten by the Bureau," Anslinger wrote. "On the day he died I thanked God for relieving me of my burden."

McCarthy died at the age of 47. Doctors listed his death as being due to a noninfectious, seldom fatal, hepatitis, "cause unknown."


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