Patrick Kennedy Defends Profiting From Addiction Recovery Advocacy

By Kelly Burch 04/20/18

Kennedy has recently come under scrutiny after a report disclosed that he made more than $1 million from his advocacy work.

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Former U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy has long used his personal experience with addiction and mental health, as well as the political clout of his family name, to advocate for changes in mental health and addiction treatment.

Now, Kennedy is defending the fact that he has made more than $1 million from his advocacy work, often because he is paid by companies that stand to benefit from policies that promote medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and other advances in treatment for substance use disorder (SUD). 

“We’re about promoting policy and it so happens that in the case of supporting that policy, some people benefit and so they support our efforts,” Kennedy told Politico, which recently reported on his financial benefits from his work in the addiction and recovery fields. “But to say that we’re doing what we’re doing to kind of promote them, that’s not my MO.”

Kennedy, who served on President Trump’s opioid commission, is the founder and CEO of The Kennedy Forum, a behavioral health nonprofit that often receives donations from major drug makers and addiction treatment companies.

He also sits on the boards of companies that will likely benefit from the changes he’s advocating for, including CleanSlate Centers, which provides medication-assisted treatment; Axial Healthcare, which sells pain and opioid management products; and InteraXon, which makes a headband that promotes meditation for people in rehab. 

“He’s got good intentions, but also is willing to take money from those who will expect him to do pretty much what he’s doing—which will benefit them either indirectly or directly,” said Paul Streckfus, an expert on tax-exempt organizations. “Charitable giving by corporations is also about getting.”

Kennedy insists that he is simply advocating for what he believes in, and denies engaging in political lobbying. 

“I think it can be said to be lobbying,” Kennedy said, but noted that his actions don’t meet the legal definition of lobbying, the process by which private interest groups try to influence governmental policy. “But that’s got such a pejorative sound to it, because we’re not lobbying for any specific interest to game some government contract or get some footing.”

Still, Kennedy’s political connections can open doors for the firms that he works with. 

“I think his name and his work sort of precedes itself,” said Alexis Horan, the vice president of government relations for CleanSlate, where Kennedy is a board member.

However, Kennedy insists that everything he is doing is focused on his goal of improving addiction and mental health services. 

“Bottom line is, we need more influence in this space,” he said. “I’m happy to be one of them, and I don’t mind doing what I know best, and that’s how to organize efforts to get a desired result.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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