Kennedy battles his demons

Rep. Patrick Kennedy says he is tackling his prescription drug addiction one day at a time, a year after crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night.

In an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, the 39-year-old son of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said he has been more vigilant about reducing stress and reaching out to friends and colleagues for support.

"I’m much more aware of the stresses in my life and minimize it where possible and connect with people whenever I do have it, so I have social support systems there when I need them," said Kennedy, a Democrat from Rhode Island now in his seventh term.

Kennedy said Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., a recovering alcoholic who is Kennedy’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, has played an important role in his recovery.

"There’s a lot more going on in the relationships I’ve had with my colleagues in the last year than just the politics," Kennedy said. "It’s made my service here, my work here so much more enjoyable on a day-to-day basis, a richer experience."

Kennedy crashed his 1997 Ford Mustang convertible into a security barrier about 3 a.m. on May 4, 2006. He agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors on a charge of driving under the influence of prescription drugs.

He completed his court-ordered drug treatment and probation last month. Treatment included weekly AA meetings and counseling with his physician, who told the court in March that Kennedy was "clean and sober."

"Recovery is a day-to-day thing," Kennedy said. "I just take it — you know, life — as they say to take it, one day at a time."

The congressman has battled addiction since high school. He said his struggles to recover from depression, alcoholism and substance abuse have made him a more passionate advocate for improved mental health care coverage.

Citing the extensive health coverage that members of Congress enjoy, Kennedy said he considers himself fortunate and wants to see more people "gain access to the kind of treatment I had. That’s why I’m so passionate about it."

Kennedy was joined by House Democratic leaders at a rally Wednesday for his bill to expand mental health and addiction treatment. The proposal would require group health plans offering benefits for mental health and addiction to do so on the same terms as care for other diseases.

"Ultimately, this is a civil rights battle because none of the people who suffer from a mental illness asked to suffer from a mental illness," Kennedy said.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press