WASHINGTON — Rep. Patrick Kennedy said Friday he was entering treatment for addiction to prescription pain medication, a decision made after a highly publicized car crash near the Capitol that the congressman said he cannot recall.
Kennedy, D-R.I., said he would seek immediate treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
He announced his decision to reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference. He walked in alone, gripped the lectern, cleared his throat and began haltingly.
Kennedy, who has struggled with addiction and depression, said he had checked into the Mayo Clinic over the Christmas holidays and returned to Congress “reinvigorated and healthy.”
“Of course, in every recovery, each day has its ups and downs, but I have been strong, focused and productive since my return,” Kennedy said.
'Not how I want to live my life'
The congressman said he again became concerned about his condition after the Thursday morning car accident.
“I simply do not remember getting out of bed, being pulled over by the police, or being cited for three driving infractions,” Kennedy said. “That’s not how I want to live my life. And that’s not how I want to represent the people of Rhode Island.”
As he was leaving the room, Kennedy was asked whether he might resign, and he shook his head no. “I need to stay in the fight,” he said. He did not take other questions.
Kennedy — nephew of the late President Kennedy — was elected to Congress in 1994.
The congressman’s father, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., issued a statement saying he was proud of his son for admitting his problem and taking steps to correct it.
“He has taken full responsibility for events that occurred ... and he will continue to cooperate fully with any investigation,” the elder Kennedy said. He added, “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.”
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The younger Kennedy said he hoped that his “openness today and in the past, and my acknowledgment that I need help, will give others the courage to get help if they need it.”
Kennedy was cited for three traffic violations after his early morning car crash Thursday near the Capitol, according to a police report.
The report by a U.S. Capitol Police officer said Kennedy drove his green 1997 Ford Mustang convertible into a security barrier near the Capitol shortly before 3 a.m. Thursday, and that Kennedy had red, watery eyes, slurred speech and unsteady balance.
No alcohol involved, Kennedy says
Kennedy had said in a statement Thursday that he had taken a sleeping pill and another drug that can cause drowsiness, but had not been drinking alcohol before the accident. “Apparently, I was disoriented from the medication,” Kennedy said.
The police report described Kennedy as “ability impaired,” and listed alcohol influence as a contributing circumstance in the crash.
Louis P. Cannon, president of the Washington chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, who was not on the scene, said the congressman had appeared intoxicated when he crashed his car. The officers involved in the accident were instructed by an official “above the rank of patrolman” to take Kennedy home and no sobriety tests were conducted at the scene, Cannon said.
“I never asked for any preferential treatment,” Kennedy said to reporters as he left his congressional office Thursday night.
It was Kennedy’s second auto crash in three weeks. His car struck the passenger rear door of a second car while Kennedy was making a left turn from a roadway into a CVS pharmacy, according to a police report on the April 15 accident. No injuries were reported in the accident in Portsmouth, R.I., and Kennedy was not cited.
In Washington, Kennedy, 38, told the police officer he was “headed to the Capitol to make a vote,” the report said. He was cited for failure to keep in the proper lane, traveling at “unreasonable speed” and failing to “give full time and attention” to operating his vehicle.
Kennedy spokeswoman Robin Costello acknowledged the police report but said in an e-mailed message: “The congressman has not been presented with those traffic tickets.”
Car allegedly swerved toward police cruiser
At about 2:47 a.m., police observed Kennedy’s car, with no headlights on, swerve into the wrong lane and strike a curb. Kennedy nearly hit a police car, the report said, and the officer in the cruiser was forced to use evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision.
The cruiser put on its emergency flashers and tried to pull Kennedy over, but the congressman did not respond. He continued at a slower speed before colliding head-on with a security barrier, according to the report.
Capitol Police had no comment Friday beyond a statement posted on their Web site, said spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider. That statement said, “The United States Capitol Police are continuing to investigate.”
He said that he’d gone home Wednesday evening after work and taken “the prescribed amount” of Phenergan, a prescription anti-nausea drug that can cause drowsiness, and Ambien, a sleep medication. But he said he consumed no alcohol before the crash.
The attending physician for Congress had prescribed Phenergan to treat Kennedy’s gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. According to the drug’s label, Phenergan can increase the effects of sleep medicines such as Ambien.
Ambien comes with a warning to patients that it can cause confusion, strange behavior and hallucinations. Also, it is to be taken only when patients have time for a full eight hours of sleep, allowing its effects to wear off, according to its Food and Drug Administration-approved label.
The congressman was treated at a drug rehabilitation clinic before he went to Providence College and has been praised in the past for his openness.
NBC News contributed to this report.