How The Tragic Story Behind Casey’s Law Illustrates The Need For The Marchman Act

How The Tragic Story Behind Casey’s Law Illustrates The Need For The Marchman Act

While the Marchman Act, which allows for the involuntary commitment of someone who has lost their capacity to undertake the appropriate actions to procure treatment for their substance abuse by themselves, is specific to Florida, most other states in the USA have their own version of an involuntary commitment act. In fact, a full 46 of them do, and in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, the law allowing for involuntary treatment to be court-ordered is called Casey’s Law. 


The law is named after Matthew “Casey” Wethington, an “energetic young man who enjoyed life until it was “taken” by drugs.” He lived a largely typical middle-class suburban life, enjoying pastimes like soccer, baseball, basketball, wrestling, collecting baseball cards, playing video games, playing the guitar, riding bikes, and skateboarding.


But, despite the fact that Casey’s parents wanted nothing more than to give him the ‘right’ to a life in recovery, they were unable to get their son to consent to treatment. Tragically, he passed away due to a heroin overdose on August 19, 2002, when he was only 23 years old.


His parents were determined to use their son’s story and legacy to ensure that no other parents would have to suffer the same fate, which led them to lobby for Casey’s Law, which was officially put on the books in Kentucky in 2004 and later expanded to Ohio and Indiana.


Casey’s parents suggest that enforced treatment would have been warranted because their son’s development was arrested at the age of fourteen or fifteen, when he started using drugs. While such an assertion is likely true, it’s also important to remember that even someone who became of legal age before they started abusing drugs could regress, under the influence, to a more immature and irrational mental state, clouded by disorientation and denial.


“Every effort to intervene on his disease was stymied because he was over the age of 18 and was not in the criminal justice system. I was told that “he has to want to lose enough and hit bottom.” That is contrary to the best practices for treatment of any other chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal disease. With other diseases, we know that the sooner the disease is recognized, the longer it’s treated, the better the chances for recovery,” Casey’s mother, Charlotte Wethington, poignantly writes on a website informing about Casey’s Law and Casey’s story. 


Her words do in fact have some significant academic evidence to back them up, with one study finding that involuntary forms of treatment actually produce greater adherence to treatment protocols because patients have an external reason not to drop out of treatment.


Though the statute was initially used sparingly, petitions filed under Casey’s Law have become more and more as the opioid epidemic has continued to take hold of the midwest. Casey’s parents also hope to further their son’s legacy by bringing Casey’s Law to even more states, and the process to enact is has already been started in West Virginia and in Georgia. 


To end this sad story on a more positive note, some of the stories of people suffering from addiction whose loved ones were forced to intervene using Casey’s law actually do have happier endings. Matt Peterson’s father Paul was at one point so worried about his son, who was sleeping in his car and subsisting entirely on heroin and stolen peanut M and M’s, that he stood in front of his son’s closet picking out burial clothes. 


But when after Paul and his wife were able to order Matt into involuntary treatment thanks to Casey’s Law, he was eventually able to recover, and has now been sober for more than six years.


In another memorable Casey’s Law story, a couple who credit treatment mandated by Casey’s Law with saving their lives actually gave their son the middle name “Casey” to honor the statute’s namesake. 


Using involuntary commitment acts like Casey’s Law or the Florida Marchman Act isn’t without its pitfalls, and it certainly isn’t easy. But as these stories attest, sometimes it is the best and only option when a loved one is severely incapacitated by substance abuse. 


So if you are a Florida resident who believes that someone you love is at risk of suffering the same tragic fate that befell Casey Wethington,  it may be time to consider using the Marchman Act. To learn more about the logistics of filing a Marchman Act petition and how one of our skilled intervention counselors can help you through the process, please contact us anytime at 833-497-3808.