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State law to help addicts underutilized locally

BY ANDREA MOORE amoore@paducahsun.com

Casey's Law, a 10-year-old Kentucky law that allows family members or friends to petition the court for involuntary drug or alcohol treatment for loved ones, is seldom used in western Kentucky. 

"I do not see families utilizing this statute," McCracken District Judge Tony Kitchen said.  "I have seen one case that involved involuntary drug or alcohol treatment since I have been on the bench."

Kitchen said most people aren't aware that the law exists.

Casey's Law was enacted in 2004 and is named after Matthew "Casey" Wethington, a northern Kentucky man who died of a heroin overdose at the age of 23.

"The reason that I fought for this law is that I came to understand that Casey was not capable of making a good decision for himself," Casey's mother, Charlotte Wethington, said in a phone interview.

"I learned that addiction affects the brain, so unless someone intervenes, that person is going to continue to use to the point of incarceration or death," Wethington said. "A person that is addicted is like a person driving down a road that sees a tree in the road and knows they need to stop but cannot put the brakes on. When Casey was in crisis, the thing that I heard the most is that he needs to hit bottom. His bottom was death." 

Casey's Law allows a family member or friend to petition the court for involuntary drug or alcohol treatment for a loved one. The person who petitions the court will be examined under oath and made to sign a guarantee of payment for treatment.  

If it appears to the court that the addicted person should be ordered to undergo treatment, a hearing will be set within 14 days to determine if there is probable cause.  

The loved one has to be examined no later than 24 hours before the hearing by two qualified health professionals, one a physician.  The health professionals submit their findings to the court within 24 hours.

At the hearing, if the court finds that the person needs to undergo treatment, a 60-to-360 day treatment program will be ordered.  If the person fails to go to the ordered treatment, the court can hold him in contempt.  

"There is no infrastructure to do all of the things that the statute calls for," McCracken County Attorney Michael Murphy said. "We cannot create a doctor-patient relationship, and that is required under the statute."  

Murphy also said that petitioners may find a suitable drug treatment facility, but a bed may not be open when the court orders the person to go.  He believes that the guarantee of payment for drug treatment is also a reason the statute may be underutilized locally.

"The typical rate for most drug programs in the area is $740 a day," said Tammy Foster, office manager at the Genesis Treatment program in Hopkinsville.  "However, at this point we have a state grant that allows fees to be assessed on a sliding scale based on a person's income."

In northern Kentucky, however, local officials have seen Casey's Law applied often.

"We use Casey's Law quite a bit, and it has been very successful," Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson said.  "We have one of the largest amounts of heroin use in the state, and parents are seeking a solution."  

Edmondson said Casey's mother being from Kenton County has helped to educate the public in that part of the state about the law. 

Contact Andrea Moore, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8684.

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