Casey’s Law advocacy spreads through Kentucky

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By Kacie Goode

Pat Mattingly knew her daughter’s addiction was spiraling out of control, but when Ashley asked her to be ready to administer Narcan as she tied a band around her arm and pulled out a needle, she realized it was time to intervene.

“We thought this was serious, but that hit me like a ton of bricks,” Pat said. “If we don’t do something, this child is going to die.”

Pat is one of several Kentuckians advocating for the use of Casey’s Law, an involuntary treatment act that allows relatives, guardians or friends to have a loved one court-ordered into treatment. The law gained some attention earlier this month in Elizabethtown when Hardin County Attorney Jenny Oldham shared that Hardin County had only 10 people file the petition in the last 14 years since the law was established.

“That is surprising, especially with the level of drug addiction that we know we are seeing,” Oldham told The News-Enterprise.

But while Hardin County has struggled with participation in Casey’s Law, officials say Nelson County’s participation rate is respectable.

According to Nelson Circuit Clerk Diane Thompson, 48 petitions have been filed under Casey’s Law in the last three years alone. As of Oct. 5, there had been 13 filed this year. Thompson credited the work of judges and Nelson County Attorney Matthew Hite for spreading the word to local families about the resource.

“I think it is a very important tool for people who have a loved one that is suffering from drug addiction,” Hite said, adding that the law is set up relatively well, respecting the rights of both the petitioner and the person being ordered into treatment.

Barriers, myths discussed

While Nelson County’s participation rate is significantly higher than that of Hardin County, the law may still be underused, Hite said, suggesting more people in the area could benefit from the petition.

Barriers that might deter someone from petitioning for Casey’s Law include fear that doing so issues a criminal charge, which it does not. In fact, the law itself prohibits a respondent of the petition from being sent to jail simply for their drug or alcohol abuse. They could receive jail time, however, if they are held in contempt of court by refusing to attend ordered treatment.

Cost is another barrier, as the petitioner bears not only the responsibility of finding a treatment facility but must also guarantee payment for all costs incurred in the process and for that treatment.

While this responsibility is something petitioners should carefully consider, it shouldn’t discourage someone from seeking help through the law.

“If the person has insurance, most insurance will cover assessment cost and treatment centers,” said Tammy Gibson, founder of the Bardstown-based United for Recovery, which helps local families affected by addiction find resources. Gibson is a proponent of Casey’s Law and said debunking some of the myths and concerns about it are important to encourage those in the community to seek help for their loved ones.

If insurance does not cover the full cost of treatment, Gibson said, there are some providers that will do a sliding scale payment and there are also Kentucky recovery centers that provide treatment at no cost, including some faith-based centers.

While cost may concern some, Gibson said a belief that forced treatment does not work is another issue she sees come up that may prevent someone from filing a petition. But the purpose of Casey’s Law is to provide “a means of intervening with someone who is unable to recognize his or her need for treatment due to their impairment,” according to caseyslaw.org.

“Once people are in treatment without substances in their system, they are able to make a clear choice to become willing,” Gibson said.

The effectiveness of forced treatment is no question for Kimberly Wright, a parent who spoke in support of Casey’s Law at an addiction awareness event in Bardstown late last month.

“You cannot recover if you are not in treatment,” Wright said. And people can benefit from involuntary treatment because if they walk away, they will face consequences as opposed to being placed back on the street. For some, court-ordered treatment comes only after a run-in with the law, and Casey’s Law can help intervene before it comes to that.

“We want you to help your loved one before they start getting arrested and getting saddled with felonies,” Wright said. “Before they start overdosing. Before they are so far in the grips of addiction.”

Testimonies support use, effectiveness of Casey’s Law

Pat Mattingly learned about Casey’s Law after she joined a support group called PAL, or Parents of Addicted Loved ones, and realized it was a resource she was willing to try. Today, she works to promote the law to other families in Kentucky.

“When Ashley was in her active addiction, it was bad and she was very aggressive,” Pat said. And she feared her daughter would hate her for forcing her into treatment, but she also knew it was what she needed to do to save her life.

“I thought, if I don’t try and she dies, I’m going to be living with regret for the rest of my life, and I’m not willing to do that,” she said. “I will do whatever it takes.”

Casey’s Law works by allowing a loved one to file a petition with the circuit clerk’s office in their county, and if probable cause is found, physical and mental evaluations are conducted on the drug user and a judge can order them into treatment as seen fit. As the petitioner for her daughter, Pat was responsible for setting up the evaluations and finding a facility for Ashley to attend.

“If you’re going to do Casey’s Law, you have to put in the work for it,” Pat said. “You have to learn the resources and you have to put forth the legwork to do this.”

After filing the petition, getting Ashley on a waiting list at a rehab facility, and convincing her to go to the evaluations, Pat’s petition was granted and Ashley was ordered into rehab.

Prior to the petition, Pat had given Ashley a chance to seek help on her own, but she failed to do so.

“At that point in time, I was so out there in addiction that none of that phased me. None of it was enough to scare me to stop or scare me to get help on my own,” Ashley said. “I was so deep in the disease that I couldn’t make that decision.”

Ashley didn’t believe her mother’s threats for the petition would come through, but it quickly became a reality when a sheriff’s deputy showed up at her door to serve her with a court date.

“When it happened, I was furious. I was really mad and resentful,” Ashley said.

Ashley continued to use up until her court date, and when the judge saw fit for her to be committed to treatment, she put up a fight and resisted going and refused to let her mother come along.

When Ashley finally made it to rehab, her struggles were not over. She ended up being discharged from the facility for breaking rules, and it was then she learned the effects of Casey’s Law.

Because Ashley had been court ordered to treatment, being kicked out meant she was held in contempt and as a result, she was to spend 30 days in jail.

“Her going to jail was an eye-opener,” Pat said. “After that, she started doing what she was told and taking it seriously.”

Eventually, Ashley was allowed back into the treatment center and finished out her ordered treatment.

Looking back, Ashley said Casey’s Law — and her mother — saved her life.

“I think deep down inside, I wanted help, but I just wasn’t willing to take action to get it on my own,” Ashley said.

Today, the two women have reestablished a positive relationship, and Pat said Casey’s Law opened doors for her daughter that she wasn’t able to open before. On Oct. 16, Ashley celebrated her second year of sobriety.


How to pursue Casey’s Law

·       Schedule appoints for evaluations with two qualified health professionals  — a physician is required, and a mental health professional is suggested.

·       File a 700A petition with the circuit court clerk in the county in which the user lives. After the court reviews the petition and determines probable cause, a judge will order the two evaluations be conducted and set a court date within two weeks.

·       Return evaluations at least 24 hours prior to court date.

·       Locate a detox and treatment facility immediately after the court date is set. The petitioner is responsible for choosing a facility.

·       Treatment is ordered based on evaluations and court hearing. Treatment can be ordered from up to 60 days and no more than 360 days.

Petitions can be obtained at the Nelson County Circuit Clerk’s Office, 200 Plaza Drive in Bardstown by requesting form No. 700A, the Verified Petition for Involuntary Treatment of Alcohol/Drug Abuse. The Nelson County Attorney’s Office also has information on the law available on its website, nckyattorney.com, under the “I want to” tab.