Town Hall Forum addresses drug addiction

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By Calen McKinney



Wearing a dress shirt and slacks, he strums his guitar and sings to tell how it feels to be a drug addict.

"It's really opened my eyes that there is hope," he croons. "All I know is the pain and sorrow that I caused on my own."

Justin Maggard might be from Pineville, but he is calling Taylor County home now as he gets treatment here for drug addiction.

A resident at The Healing Place, Maggard said he wrote the song after being in treatment for a month.

"This is how broken and hopeless I felt," he said.

Maggard sings, "I can't believe this is me that I see in the mirror."

As he strums his guitar, he says, "Though I try, I can't hide all the baggage of my life. If I could just break this disease. I pray for tomorrow, maybe then I'll find a way.

"Why wait for tomorrow? Now I know there is hope."

As the last note fades, the audience applauds and stands.

Drug addiction, education and rehabilitation were the focus of a town hall forum on Thursday night hosted by Campbellsville/Taylor County Anti-Drug Coalition and The Healing Place.

Shannon Gray, program director at The Healing Place, welcomed the 40 people who attended the forum at the addiction treatment facility.

"We like to say welcome to our family, because that's really what we are."

Gray said the goal of the forum is to raise awareness about drug addiction. He said The Healing Place is always open to the community for tours and those who want more information about its services.

He said lots of news reports today center on arrests, but not many focus on those people putting their lives back together. Gray said many who have put their lives back together after battling addiction are at The Healing Place.

"I'm looking around the room and I see a lot of miracles," he said.

Charlotte Wethington, whose son Casey died in 2002 after a heroin overdose, was the night's featured speaker.

Wethington was instrumental in passing The Matthew "Casey" Wethington Act for Substance Abuse, known as Casey's law, in 2004.

Wethington, who now speaks about drug abuse and works as a counselor, said she enjoys being around people in recovery.

"What other people do you know that are constantly working to make themselves better?" she said.

Wethington said her experience with drug abuse began with her being a naïve mother who didn't notice the warning signs in front of her.

"I can tell you Casey was a good person who made a bad decision to use drugs the first time," she said.

Wethington said she never believed her son, who grew up with two parents, never saw drugs abused in his home and was loved, would ever use drugs.

"Addiction does not discriminate," she said. "And it's an equal opportunity disease.

"Casey, I thought, was just a typical little boy when he pushed everything to the limit," she said. "He was a risk taker. I didn't really know at the time that was spelling trouble for Casey."

She said her family's experience with drug addiction began after she got a phone call reporting that Casey had gone to school high. After meeting with his parents and a counselor, Casey denied the accusation.

Wethington said she remembers being in denial and believing that her son would never do something like that.

"I often say we were in denial long before Casey was," she said.

After high school, Casey went to college and, at first, did very well. Wethington said he stayed at home for a while but then moved out to live with friends.

When snooping through Casey's belongings, Wethington said she couldn't find any evidence he was using drugs. But one day, she said, he left his backpack at home and she found marijuana inside.

Casey soon moved back home, Wethington said. At a birthday dinner in 2001, she said, she noticed Casey was using. She said she wishes there had been an intervention for Casey then. But at that point, Casey hadn't been arrested and couldn't be ordered to go to treatment.

Before Christmas that year, Wethington said, Casey said to her, "'I don't know who I am anymore.'

"Casey didn't recognize himself. I think one of the saddest things is we lost Casey before we lost Casey."

In February 2002, Casey told his mother he was addicted to OxyContin. She called treatment centers to get Casey help. One had a bed available if the family could pay $3,000 upfront. The family got the money together.

"Because through all of it, we wanted Casey to know we loved him ... there was not anything we wouldn't do to help him."

But shortly after entering the treatment center, Casey left. Wethington said he was allowed to because he was 18.

Three months later, Wethington received a call that Casey had overdosed for the first time. A month later, and then two months after that, Casey overdosed again.

She said she remembers a nurse at the hospital saying Casey hadn't lost enough yet and wasn't old enough to want to be clean and sober.

"I said, 'What if he doesn't live to be old?'"

Casey was later arrested after police officers found marijuana in his possession. Wethington said she remembers being relieved after hearing the news.

"Hallelujah, he's in jail," she said. "Who would have ever thought that we would celebrate having our son in jail? Addiction does strange things to you."

Wethington said she attempted to ask a judge to send her son to treatment in lieu of jail, though her son was simply released with a date to return to court. He would die before that court date.

On Aug. 9, 2002, Wethington said, she got a phone call that Casey had overdosed again and was in a coma. Ten days later, Casey showed no signs of improvement.

"[My husband] Jim would later say we were given those 10 days to say goodbye," Wethington said, with tears in her eyes.

On Aug. 19, after being told Casey would never improve, his ventilators were removed. Three days later, Casey was buried.

"Did he want to be addicted? No. Did he lose enough? I think so. Did he hit bottom? Definitely."

After Casey's death, Wethington attempted to talk to the judge who presided over Casey's criminal case. She said she was told she didn't understand how the court system works.

"And I said, if that's how the system works, there's something wrong with the system."

Wethington then began working with legislators to change the system. After an uphill battle, Casey's Law was approved in 2004. The law allows parents, relatives and friends to petition a court to order treatment on someone's behalf.

"I know there have been lives saved because of Casey," Wethington said. "Our plan was small compared to the plan that God had for us."

Wethington then began working to help those struggling with addiction.

"I tell the guys, 'There's one thing for sure, you can't recover if you're dead.'"

Wethigton said she enjoys her work and is grateful that Kentucky has 10 recovery centers like The Healing Place.

"I love being with the guys," she said. "Because when I see them, I see Casey. And that's always a good thing."

Community Groups

For those interested in learning more about drug addiction and recovery, the Campbellsville/Taylor County Anti-Drug Coalition meets the third Friday of each month at Taylor Regional Hospital at noon. The next meeting is May 17.

The local People Advocating Recovery group will meet Friday, May 24, at noon at The Healing Place.

Both meetings are open to the public.

For more about efforts to curb drug addition in Taylor County, see a story printed in the Monday, April 22, issue.