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1961. New York. A doctor pushes a needle into the throat of a young man. He has injected the man with liquid methamphetamine. The man feels better and is escorted to a car, which pulls away from the kerb and rushes through the streets. It pulls up at the United Nations building.
Lights flash and bodyguards help the young man out of the car. He shakes people’s hands as he walks into the building and through a maze of corridors.
He walks out into an assembly hall full of bright lights. Cameras flash, everyone stands and applause erupts.
With papers in his hand he approaches the lectern. He begins his speech by saying: ‘Dag Hammarskjöld is dead. But the United Nations lives.’ ‘To help maintain his image of youthful vigor, President John F. Kennedy received regular injections containing around 15mg of methamphetamine, together with vitamins and hormones, from a German-trained physician named Max Jacobson.’ This story of JFK’s dalliances with ice seems too far-fetched to be true. Could a person of such brilliance really have used a drug like methamphetamine regularly? Yes, it’s true. These words are from the American Journal of Public Health and the author is esteemed Australian professor Nicolas Rasmussen.
I was reluctant to include this story about JFK in my book on methamphetamine, Breaking the Ice. 79 Although I wrote about the use of ice by the Nazis, including Hitler, it just seemed too ridiculous to discuss JFK’s issues with the drug. But it’s an important story that challenges what Australians are being told about ice use and addiction.
JFK did stop receiving the injections. And nearly ten years after he was assassinated, the New York Times uncovered Max Jacobson’s practices: The most famous of the doctor’s patients were President and Mrs Kennedy. Dr Jacobson frequently visited the White House and often travelled with the Kennedys. In 1961, for Example, he went with the President to Vienna for the summit meeting with Khrushchev and, Dr Jacobson said in an interview, gave the President injections there.
I note John F. Kennedy’s story here not to shame him. On the contrary, it shows us that people who use drugs — including ice — are human beings. And they can be wonderful human beings too, in spite of their addictions.
People use drugs for a whole range of reasons. In JFK’s case, it was to deal with crippling illnesses, including a chronic back problem, colitis and Addison’s disease. Kennedy used numerous drugs under the supervision of medical practitioners. In the 1960s doctors often prescribed drugs at levels that would now be considered unsafe or potentially addictive.
So, was Kennedy an addict? That really shouldn’t be the question. A more relevant question would be: ‘Even if he did use meth, did Kennedy help to improve the world?’ Most would answer an unequivocal: ‘Yes!’ JFK had an addiction and he was also a wonderful human being. This is an extract fromMatt Noffs & Kieran Palmer