Mother advocates for Casey’s Law enacted to honor dead son

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By Bryan Marshall

Charlotte Wethington did not have any evidence that her son was addicted to drugs, but she had a gut feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Her instincts proved to be correct, as her son Casey would overdose three times and eventually die at age 23 after the third time.
“If you think there is something wrong, there probably is and you need to act on it now,” she said. “Don’t wait for proof. I thought that I needed to be sure that Casey was doing something, that I should have accused him and I know that I never wanted to damage his self-esteem or make him feel like I didn’t love him or trust him or believe in him. But that had a horrible consequence because I waited and I waited too long. And not only that, but I was told time after time after time from the people that I went to for help, who were the professionals who were supposed to have the answers, that he had to want to lose enough and hit bottom.”
Wethington said she was willing to bet everyone in the room had heard those words before, but questioned, “What is enough?” and “What is bottom?”
Casey had several risk factors for addiction, including a genetic predisposition because there was substance abuse on both sides of his family, and he was a risk taker, Wethington said. “I was clueless,” she said. “Casey even said to me one day, he said, ‘Mom, where do you live?’ because he knew I wasn’t living in reality. I was living somewhere else. I always wanted to be like June Cleaver, but we didn’t quite make it. … And I don’t know that anyone is.”
Once Casey finally asked for help, the family was unable to get him a bed in a drug detox facility, she said. He was eventually arrested, and Wethington thought he would finally receive help through the court system. He was released under his own recognizance to receive a summons within 90 days, but it did not come until the day of his funeral, she said.
When she called the courthouse, Wethington said she wanted a judge to order treatment for her son, and she was told that that was not how the system worked. She said she did not know if she had an epiphany or not, but she decided if anybody was going to change the system, maybe it should start with her.
The Matthew Casey Wethington Act for Substance Abuse Intervention or Casey’s Law (KRS 222.430 – 222.437) became effective for the state of Kentucky on July 13, 2004. It allows parents, relatives or friends to petition the court for involuntary treatment on behalf of someone with a substance abuse disorder, regardless of age and without criminal charges.
The family was unable to donate Casey’s organs because he had been an IV drug user, but Wethington said he is saving many more people through Casey’s Law. “I think God had a much bigger plan for us and for Casey’s life because he is saving many more people than he would have ever been able to do by an organ donation. Through Casey’s law, I know there are people living today that might not be if it hadn’t been for Casey’s law.”
Go to CaseysLaw.org to download a petition and start the process, she said. The person needs to agree to undergo two evaluations, and the petitioner must pay for the treatment, she said. However, the petitioner is in charge of choosing the facility and the evaluators so they can control how much they spend. There are 14 recovery centers in Kentucky – half for men and half for women – that are free, she said.
“There are options out there, and people will say, ‘If they don’t want to, it’s not going to do any good. You’re just wasting your time,’” Wethington said. “… Here’s the deal. Treatment works, but you have to stay in treatment for it to work. You’ve got to be present. If someone goes into a treatment facility on their own, which is wonderful I’m not saying anything against it, but if they go in on their own, just remember they can walk out the door on their own too. There (are) no locked doors, and so with Casey’s Law, if they leave against court order, the judge may hold them in contempt of court and put them in jail for a time to be determined by the judge. This is without any criminal charges.”
Wethington encouraged everyone to talk about Casey’s Law and about their personal situation with others because they may be talking to someone in the same situation. “We’ve got to take it out of the closets, she said. “Stop making it a secret and bring it out into the open.”