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Rehnquist addiction detailed

The late chief justice became delusional after he stopped taking a sedative, FBI files show.

January 05, 2007|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist took a powerful sedative during his first decade on the high court and grew so dependent on it that he became delusional and tried to escape from a hospital in his pajamas when he stopped taking the drug in 1981, according to newly released FBI files.

The FBI this week released 1,561 pages from its files on Rehnquist in response to Freedom of Information Act requests filed after his death in September 2005. Privacy laws forbid disclosure of such files during a person's lifetime.

The fact that Rehnquist checked in to George Washington University Hospital for a week in late December 1981 to be treated for back pain and dependence on a prescription drug was previously known. Journalists had noted that fall that Rehnquist's speech was sometimes slurred on the bench, and the Washington Post reported on the hospitalization.

But the files reveal new details about the length and intensity of the addiction. During its 1986 investigation, the FBI concluded that Rehnquist began taking Placidyl for insomnia after back surgery in 1971, the year before he joined the court. By 1981 he apparently was taking 1,500 milligrams a night, three times the usual starting dose.

Known generically as ethchlorvynol, Placidyl is a sedative and sleep-inducing drug that is not usually prescribed for more than a week at a time.

It is not an opiate and is not a painkiller, but it is addictive, and withdrawal can cause hallucinations and temporary memory loss.

Doctors told FBI agents that when the then-associate justice stopped taking the drug, he suffered paranoid delusions.

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