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Families can use Casey’s Law to help loved ones in the battle with drugs

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If you were able to attend the Heroin Town Hall meeting sponsored by Champions for a Drug Free Carroll County, you heard a lot about Casey’s Law. 

Casey’s  Law was passed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky on July 13, 2004. A result of the advocacy efforts of Charlotte Wethington, the law provides for court-ordered involuntary treatment for persons who are abusing alcohol or other substances. The law is named for Wethington’s son, Mathew Casey Wethington, who died as a result of an overdose after his parents attempted to intervene, but were unable to do so, because of hurdles encountered in the legal and treatment arenas.

In today’s society and drug ridden climate, Casey’s law can be an effective tool to combat the substance abuse problem.  The only issue is people do not avail themselves of the law often enough. Since I was hired by the former County Attorney, Jim Monk, in 2006 to be the assistant county attorney, I have only had a handful of people inquire about involuntary treatment options.   Of those few who inquired, only one person availed themselves of Casey’s Law. 

The hesitancy and reluctance to follow through with intervention has always come when we have to advise the applicant that they have to guarantee payment for the treatment pursuant to the law. Unfortunately, many people who abuse drugs or alcohol do not have insurance.  For those that have coverage, insurance companies have become more and more unwilling to pay for treatment. This leaves the burden on the applicant to pay for the treatment if ordered. 

There are not very many people in our county today who can afford to pay thousands of dollars on treatment. It is not because we don’t love the person for whom we seek treatment, it is a matter of being able to survive in today’s economy.

As stated at the Town Hall Meeting, there is some fleeting glimmer of hope. With the new focus of our laws on treatment, treatment at little or no cost is expanding. I do not want to give you false hope, however. Even though treatment is expanding, for those of us who work with this every day, it is obvious that the expansion is happening at a snail’s pace. However, there are certainly more options available than there were five years ago.

With the expansion of treatment, Casey’s Law is now a more viable option than it was when I first started with the County Attorney’s Office. The law is fairly simple in how it works. If you know of someone who is abusing drugs or alcohol, you can file a petition with the District Court asking the court to order that person to involuntary treatment. 

The court will examine the applicant under oath and determine if there is probable cause to order the person to treatment.  If the court finds probable cause, it will order the person to be evaluated by two qualified professionals, which shall include at least one physician. 

Within 14 days of the order for evaluation, the court will conduct a hearing. The court will appoint the person alleged to need treatment an attorney.  The evaluation will occur before the hearing. If, after that hearing, the court finds the person needs treatment, it will order inpatient treatment of at least 60 to 360 days.  The applicant isrequired to guarantee payment but is allowed to find the treatment.

The court uses the following criteria when deciding if treatment should be ordered. The person must suffer from alcohol or other drug abuse; present an imminent threat of danger to self, family or others as a result of said abuse or there is a substance likelihood of such threat in the near future; and the person can reasonably benefit from treatment.

You may be thinking, “This can’t wait two weeks for a hearing.” The law provides that the court can order an involuntary 72-hour hospitalization upon the certification of a qualified health professional that the person presents an imminent danger to self, family or others as a result of alcohol and/or drug abuse.

There are also slightly altered proceedings for juveniles who abuse drugs and alcohol. The law says that you can file your petition with the Circuit Clerk.  Typically, it is the practice in our county that you can work with the County Attorney’s Office in this process. We are more than willing to help combat this war on drug abuse.

If you have a loved one battling this issue, I would encourage you to first research treatment options that are affordable to you and the payment arrangements which can be made with each treatment program. After that, set up a time with the County Attorney’s Office to pursue your rights under Casey’s Law so that your loved one can get the help they need before it is too late.

Nick Marsh is County Attorney for Carroll County and resides in Carrollton, Ky.