Newsbrief: Kentucky Bill Would Let Families Commit Drug Users to Rehab 11/28/03

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A bill that would allow drug users to be involuntarily committed to drug treatment centers has been introduced in the Kentucky General Assembly. The bill, the "Matthew Casey Wethington Act for Substance Abuse Prevention," would allow family members, friends, or anyone else, for that matter, to petition a Kentucky court seeking the involuntary commitment of a "drug abuser." Wethington was a 22-year-old Morning View man who died of a heroin overdose last year.

Under current Kentucky law, no adult can be forced to seek drug treatment. But under the bill pre-filed for the 2004 session by state Rep. Thomas Kerr (R-Taylor Mill), a longtime friend of the Wethington family, that would change, with drug users facing the same sort of involuntary commitment procedures used against mentally ill people who are found to be a danger to themselves or others.

Friends or relatives of drug users could petition for a treatment commitment hearing from a district court judge. If, after hearing a doctor's evaluation, the judge deems the person a danger to himself or others, that person could be committed to a treatment center for 60 to 360 days. Failure to comply with a commitment order would be construed as contempt of court, with criminal penalties.

"The analogy is a person who suffers from drug abuse really is in the same position as someone with mental health problems. They've lost the ability to make decisions for themselves," Kerr told the Kentucky Post last week. "When you have an individual that's a family member that has drug problems and that person is an adult, under current law there is nothing a family member can do to intervene," Kerr said.

Kerr filed a similar bill this year, but it died in part because of budget concerns. Under his original bill, Medicaid would have picked up the tab for treatment costs. In next year's version of the bill, however, the person petitioning for the involuntary commitment would have to pick up the tab.

The bill will be considered by the Kentucky General Assembly in its session beginning in January.

Visit http://www.lrc.state.ky.us/record/04rs/HB77/bill.doc to read the bill online.

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