Kentucky Politics

Amid a legal challenge, state lawmakers want to update a law that allows family members to force people with addictions into drug treatment.

Casey’s Law went into effect in 2004 and was named after Matthew Casey Wethington, a Kentuckian who died of a heroin overdose at age 23 after his parents unsuccessfully tried to send him to rehab.

But the constitutionality of the law is being challenged in court by someone who was ordered into treatment. The case is sealed, and the identity of the plaintiff and origin of the lawsuit aren’t publicly known.

Rep. Kim Moser, a Republican from Taylor Mill, said the law needs to be bolstered to stay in effect.

“We want even more victims of substance use disorder to get the treatment they need. The same kind of treatment so many families are desperate for,” Moser said during a recent legislative meeting.

Under Casey’s Law, family members or friends can petition a court to rule if a loved one should undergo treatment. The court has to determine if the person is a threat to themselves or family because of the addiction and could reasonably benefit from treatment.

In 2020, someone sued to block the law, arguing that it violates due process and doesn’t include a way for people to pay for treatment if they can’t afford it. Kentucky’s Department of Public Advocacy, the state’s public defense agency, is representing the individual suing to block Casey’s Law.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron is defending the law and asking for the legislature to make changes to help it survive the challenge.

The changes would create a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard before someone can be committed to treatment and allow defendants to cross examine health care professionals who testify about their conditions.

Blake Christopher, a lawyer in the attorney general’s office, said the changes are necessary given the civil liberties that are at stake.

“We think our changes will help ensure Casey’s Law can be enforced, that it can be preserved and that victims of substance use disorder can get the help they need no matter where they live in the commonwealth,” Christopher said.

Sen. Karen Berg, a Democrat from Louisville, said the law gives some families a tool they need.

“Anything we can do to strengthen the law in this state and make it apply equally throughout the state, I am 100% in favor of,” Berg said.

Charlotte Wethington, Casey’s mother, spoke in favor of the changes, but said she doesn’t give the law all the credit for helping people recover.

“If you are familiar with addiction and recovery you know it is a lifelong journey and it takes a lot of work to recover,” Wethington said.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.