In family courts around the United States, children are taken from parents addicted to drugs. I observed this first hand in New Jersey, where I defended such parents.

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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, July 13, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's blog at The Huffington Post website.

What Cindy McCain and Michael Jackson Have in Common

In family courts around the United States, children are taken from parents addicted to drugs. I observed this first hand in New Jersey, where I defended such parents.

The people I defended were indigent, and thus came under the scrutiny of the Department of Children and Family Services. (An alternative route to such scrutiny is divorce and a custody battle.) The State of New Jersey is implacable in removing young children from homes in which such an addiction is identified, after which parents may or may not get their kids back.

But some parents fare better, despite public discovery or acknowledgment of their addictions. In general, parents inoculated against state action are influential and/or wealthy, like Cindy McCain and Michael Jackson.

Little discussed during the recent presidential campaign was Cindy McCain's admission in 1994 that she had been addicted to prescription painkillers, including obtaining the drugs illegally (which resulted in a investigation by the DEA of her use of fake scripts). And, after all, that episode is long over, so why discus it now?

Because it is illustrative of differences in how such cases are handled, depending on who is addicted. Mrs. McCain was the mother of four small children from 1989 to 1992 -- the period during which she admitted being addicted -- one of whom was adopted in that time. But she tearfully confessed, received treatment, and all was forgiven. And did you really think the Arizona state agency responsible for child protection was going to remove her children?

Americans (at least white Americans) are more likely to be disturbed by the case of Michael Jackson. Reports are circulating that a raid on his home led to discovery of injection paraphernalia and massive quantities of pharmaceuticals. Moreover, his death has been potentially linked to a combination of prescription pain killers, sedatives, and anti-anxiety drugs, along with powerful hospital anesthetics.

Jackson has been described -- most affectingly by his beautiful 11-year-old daughter, Paris -- as a devoted and caring father. But the sheer amount of drugs he was claimed to be using might cause authorities to wonder whether he could devote the kind of attention three children demand of a single parent. (Obviously, Mr. Jackson had oodles of paid help and an involved mother.)

But the recent alleged discovery of a drug cache was the second for Mr. Jackson -- similar claims were made after a raid on Neverland in 2003 when he faced charges of child molestation. Although Jackson was acquitted of these charges in 2005, suspicion of child molesting is a whole other basis for removing children from a home. Yet I am unaware of any investigation by California of Michael Jackson's suitability as a parent

My experience in a New Jersey Superior Court makes it hard for me to imagine someone facing child sexual molestation charges who is strongly suspected of a drug addiction being ignored by a division of family services. But such an investigation would certainly have been fought tooth and nail by Mr. Jackson with high-priced legal assistance. Moreover, Mr. Jackson's popularity with important minority groups and others would make any such an investigation extremely politically sensitive.

So there you have it: parents with financial resources, power, prestige, and political constituencies face a different reality from those without these things.

And I can't TELL you how a New Jersey family court judge would have reacted to David Hasselhoff's teenage daughter's film of the actor and celebrity drunkenly eating a hamburger on the floor if he was instead an unknown, poor divorced parent.