Kennedy Slowly Battles Drug Addiction

 By ANDREW MIGA, Associated Press Writer

 Wed May 2, 8:38 PM

 WASHINGTON - 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.

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