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Recovery Advocate Rep. Patrick Kennedy Leaving Congress

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Citing the death of his father and the need for a new direction in his life, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) has announced that he will not seek reelection to Congress this fall, the Associated Press reported Feb. 12.

Kennedy, the leading advocate for addiction treatment and prevention issues in Congress, plans to air a video on Sunday informing Rhode Island voters about his decision not to seek a ninth term in the House of Representatives.

“Going forward I will continue many of the fights we waged together, particularly on behalf of those suffering from depression, addiction, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder,” Kennedy said in a quote drawn from the video by AFP.

Rob Morrison, executive director of the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, lauded Kennedy's “incredible work” on alcohol and other drug issues. “We will certainly miss Patrick Kennedy's leadership in Congress,” said Morrison. “His work on parity, health reform, juvenile justice and securing increased federal funding for addiction programs are but a few [of his] accomplishments.”

“Millions of Americans will be helped as a result of his parity bill,” added Carol McDaid, board chair of Faces and Voices of Recovery. “It will be a living legacy to his passion and commitment.”

Kennedy, whose father, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), died last August, said his life has “taken a new direction,” and he paid tribute to his “most cherished mentor and confidant, my ultimate source of spirit and strength.”

“My father taught me that politics at its very core is about serving others. For two decades I've been humbled and honored to represent people of my state,” Kennedy said. “He instilled in me a deep commitment for public service, whether through elected office … or non-profit advocacy.”

Democratic fundraiser Mark Weiner told the Washington Post that the elder Kennedy's death may have played a large role in his son's decision. “It's tough to get up and go to work every day when your partner is not there,” Weiner said. “I think he just had a broken heart after his father passed away.”

Kennedy has dealt with addiction and relapse over the course of his life and during his time in Congress, and thanked Rhode Island voters for their continued faith in him. “When I made missteps or suffered setbacks, you responded not with contempt, but compassion,” he said. “Thank you for all the times you lifted me up, pushed me forward and filled my heart with hope.”

Some polls showed Kennedy's popularity waning among Rhode Island voters, but he was still widely expected to win reelection in a state with four times more registered Democrats than Republicans.

Kennedy founded and leads the Congressional Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus and played a key role in passage of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Retired Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), who co-sponsored the House version of the parity bill, called Kennedy's departure from Capitol Hill “a huge loss for people with mental illness and addiction, as Patrick Kennedy was their greatest champion in Washington.”

“Patrick's courageous admissions of his own struggles with bipolar disease and alcoholism have helped reduce the stigma of these diseases, and his personal recovery has been a great inspiration to many people,” said Ramstad. “Were Patrick Kennedy's uncle, President Kennedy, still alive and were President Kennedy to write a sequel to Profiles in Courage, his nephew Patrick  would occupy a full chapter.”

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