Patrick Kennedy is lobbying to be drug czar after making millions from drug makers, treatment centers
Andrew Trunsky, DCNF
Patrick Kennedy, the former Rhode Island congressman and son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, is publicly campaigning to be President-elect Joe Biden’s “drug czar” when he takes office in January.
“I have no shame in saying it: I believe I could do better than anyone else,” Kennedy said during an interview with STAT News when asked about the possibility of him directing the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Kennedy, who retired from Congress in 2011, would likely be a polarizing pick given his history as CEO of the Kennedy Forum, a nonprofit which was funded in part by major pharmaceutical companies and addiction-treatment facilities, Politico reported in 2018.
Kennedy made more than $1.1 million while leading the nonprofit from 2014 to 2016, and since then has served on President Donald Trump’s opioid commission, a role that benefitted his nonprofit work as well, according to the report.
The former congressman also sat on the board of eight different corporations that all stood to gain financially from the Trump administration’s response to the opioid crisis. While in his respective positions, Kennedy lobbied his former colleagues on the Hill to push for higher spending levels towards treatments and anti-opioid drugs, according to Politico.
“I see this as a historic turning point for mental health and addiction. The headlines may be about a respiratory illness, but I think the legacy of this thing is going to be the brain illnesses that it causes through the trauma of dislocation, stress, uncertainty, and the self-medication that comes with all of that,” Kennedy told STAT News, referring to the additional tolls imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Though the ONDCP operated without great attention during President Donald Trump’s term, whoever holds it is the nation’s highest-ranking drug policy official. The position could play an outsized role in a Biden administration as the country seeks to move past the ongoing opioid epidemic and the coronavirus pandemic, which has worsened drug abuse and mental health throughout the United States.
But some of Kennedy’s views may be out of step with most Democrats. He opposes legal marijuana for recreational use, calling it “commercialization of a new big tobacco industry” during the STAT interview, and supports the criminal justice system mandating treatment programs for those convicted of low-level drug offenses.
“You cannot ignore the value of the criminal justice system to focus people when they’re not in a position to necessarily focus on wanting recovery,” he said. As someone who long struggled with addiction and mental health, Kennedy credited the criminal justice system for his own recovery, according to STAT.
Spokespersons for the Biden transition did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment on Kennedy’s push for to lead the ONDCP in the incoming administration.