Hogan's Alley

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Patrick Kennedy's Pain Killer Problem?

Much of the coverage of Rep. Patrick Kennedy's early morning wanderings has focused on his use of Ambien, a sleep medication which has had recently reported incidents of sleep walking and sleep eating. But I think most analysts have missed the clues provided in Kennedy's own statement on Friday before he left for treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

The key passages are:

This past Christmas, I realized that I had to seek help again so checked myself into the Mayo Clinic for addiction to prescription pain medication. I was there over the holiday and during the House recess getting well, and I returned to the House of Representatives and to Rhode Island reinvigorated and healthy.

Emphasis added. Here he tells us that as recently as four months ago he was treated for addiction to pain medications. Then he says the following:

The recurrence of an addiction problem can be triggered by things that happen in everyday life, such as taking a common treatment for a stomach flu. That's not an excuse for what happened Wednesday evening, but its a reality of fighting a chronic condition for which I'm taking full responsibility.

Here he is trying to imply that his "addiction" was again triggered by his use of Phenergan, which is used for gastroenteritis, the principal symptom of a "stomach flu", among other uses. Phenergan itself is not addictive. Neither, for that matter is Ambien, although it is considered"habit forming", making sleeping without it difficult.

Most importantly, while the use of both drugs could easily have caused Kennedy's behavior on the streets outside the Capitol, there is simply no pattern of such drugs triggering addiction to another drug. That is unless one categorizes it, as Kennedy does, as one of the "things that happen in everyday life." Those things would include stress, depression, boredom, peer pressure, and easy access to the addictive substance.

My reading of Kennedy's statement is that it was a "non-admission admission". He is implying clearly, to my ear, that he has again resumed overuse of a pain medication. Although he doesn't say which pain medication he was having a problem with in December, the most likely candidates in that class of drugs are Vicodin and oxycontin.

So what we see here is yet another person in the public arena who is struggling with a difficult addiction in full view of the media. In Rush Limbaugh's case, he has been subjected to a good deal of gleeful mocking by bloggers and MSM pundits who dislike his politics. Such a reaction to any human being's painful struggle with a difficult addiction is stupid and cruel.

Kennedy, as does Limbaugh, deserves our respect for the courage it takes to face one's demons head on. Let us hope that the right will not now emulate the worst behavior of the left. The man should, in the end, be judged by his constituents on the basis of his ability to perform his job. If and when they judge that his problem with addiction is interfering with his ability to do that job they will let him know. The rest of us should keep our mouths shut. There but for the grace of God go I.