Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy announced plans Friday to enter a rehab clinic in Minnesota to treat an addiction to prescription drugs, a day after he crashed his car in an incident he says he does not remember.
The Rhode Island Democrat said yesterday he was under the influence of two separate prescription drugs that had been recently prescribed when he hit a traffic barrier at 2:45 a.m. two blocks from the Capitol building.
In a brief 3 p.m. press conference televised live, the 38-year-old Kennedy said he does not remember getting out of bed, driving to the Capitol, crashing his green convertible Mustang, or being driven home by police.
“I am deeply concerned about . . . my lack of knowledge of the accident that evening,” Kennedy said in the press conference, his voice shaking. “That’s not how I want to live my life and not how I want to represent the people of Rhode Island.”
Kennedy also acknowledged he entered the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota around Christmas to treat an addiction to prescription drugs.
“In every recovery, each day has ups and downs,” he said. He has admitted only to taking the prescribed doses of Phenergan to treat a stomach ailment and Ambien to treat insomnia.
Kennedy said he was returning to the Mayo Clinic Friday afternoon.
While Kennedy said he doesn’t remember the incidents of Thursday morning, a police report obtained Friday details that he was “driving at a high rate of speed in a construction zone, and also swerving into the wrong lane of travel. … Furthermore, the vehicle had no lights running, and swerved again striking the north curb.”
Kennedy was cited with three separate violations: failure to give full time and attention, failure to keep in proper lane and unreasonable speed.
The congressman’s “eyes were red and watery, speech was slightly slurred, and upon exiting his vehicle, his balance was unsure,” reads the report.
At his press conference, Kennedy said he had returned home after participating in a series of Congressional votes Wednesday night and taken two separate medications: Phenergan, for gastroenteritis, and Ambien, to help him sleep.
A letter from the attending physician for members of Congress, obtained by The Journal, confirmed that Kennedy was prescribed the drugs, both of which can cause drowsiness.
“You were prescribed Phenergan to help treat your symptoms. The side effects of Phenergan include drowsiness and sedation,” the physician, John Eisold, wrote to Kennedy. “Also, review of your medical record shows that you were prescribed Ambien on April 25, 2006, to assist with insomnia.”
In what one police official is calling preferential treatment, Kennedy was not given a field sobriety test after the accident. Instead, he was driven home by Capitol Police.
The handling of the accident prompted an immediate complaint of preferential treatment for the congressman from a union official with the U.S. Capitol police, who also alleged that officers on the scene said Kennedy displayed signs of intoxication.
It has also drawn national attention. The Providence College graduate is the son of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and the nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, making him a member of one of the most famous families in the country. The congressman’s mother, Joan B. Kennedy, has had a long, and public, battle with alcoholism.
The congressman’s own history includes incidents such as a run-in with an airport security guard, a misadventure with a chartered yacht, and, more recently, a minor traffic accident in Portsmouth, where he makes his Rhode Island home.
Sen. Kennedy released this statement after his son’s announcement Friday:
“I love Patrick very much and am very proud of him. All of us in the family admire his courage in speaking publicly about very personal issues and fully support his decision to seek treatment. He has taken full responsibility for events that occurred Wednesday evening, and he will continue to cooperate fully in any investigation.
“I have the rare and special honor of being able to serve with my son in the Congress, and I have enormous respect for the work Patrick has done. The people of the 1st District of Rhode Island have a tireless champion for the issues they care about, and, today, I hope they join me in feeling pride and respect for a courageous man who has admitted to a problem and taken bold action to correct it.”
Patrick Kennedy said Friday he’s committed to the people of Rhode Island.
“I’m determined to address this issue so that I can continue to fight for the families of Rhode Island with the same dedication and rigor that I have exemplified over the past decade,” he said.
Kennedy has served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and now sits on the House Appropriations Committee.
When asked after the press conference if he planned to leave public office, which he has held since 1994, he said, “I need to stay in the fight.”
With reports from John E. Mulligan, Journal Washington bureau