About two weeks after Kelly Mangold lost her 22-year-old son, Kyle Thayer, to an opiate overdose, her world started spinning again.
She had arranged to meet with Lesha Cuttaia that day, Nov. 5, for coffee, she recalled. Cuttaia, who with her son co-founded the Fuck Heroin Foundation, could relate to Mangold’s situation in many ways. Cuttaia, too, had raised a son in northern Ohio and fought with a mother’s tenacity to save him from addiction.
(Cuttaia’s son, Frankie Holmes, is now in recovery and active in the foundation as its co-founder.)
But when Cuttaia heard about Mangold’s efforts to get Thayer into treatment during his addiction — how she had talked to lawyers, law enforcement officials, mental health professional in hopes of finding a way to force his hand — she said her story stopped adding up.
“She’s telling me her story, and I’m like, ’This makes no sense,’” Cuttaia recalled later.
That’s because Cuttaia was familiar with Casey’s Law, a little-used law that since 2012 has enabled Ohio families to petition courts for treatment on behalf of loved ones abusing drugs or alcohol. Mangold, even after all her questions, was not.
“Why would I not have known?” Mangold, an officer with the Bay View Police Department, asked later.
Casey’s Law is one of two state laws that Mangold believes could have saved her son — if the appropriate people had known about them. The other law, known as the Good Samaritan Law, could have encouraged the people her son was with when he overdosed to dial 911 immediately.
Awareness of these laws is both important and lacking, according to several people whose work intersects with the opioid epidemic locally. And beyond awareness of the laws, too, they said, is awareness of the nuances within them.
People like Bill “Tiny” Lawson, co-founder of the recovery-oriented Warriors Project, and Joey Supina, of the similarly focused Sandusky Artisans Recovery Community Center, were among those who pointed to conditions in the laws that make them less effective than they could be.
Lawson, for example, said he’d ideally like to see the scope of both laws widened so that they apply to more people than they currently do. But until then, he said, it’s important that people know what he and others described as positive first steps.
“Like any law, it’s important to get it on the books,” he said. “By getting it there, it gives us an opportunity to change it in the future.”
Casey’s Law, mirroring similar legislation in Kentucky, came to Ohio in 2012. It allows a person to ask local probate courts to mandate treatment for a loved one abusing drugs or alcohol. So long as the person can prove that their loved ones is a danger to themselves or others, based on their substance abuse, their loved one would not have to consent to whatever treatment the court orders.
In Ohio, though, the law has seen little action. In Ottawa and Erie counties, for example, probate court administrators said no one has filed a petition in the nearly five years since the law has been effective. Just seven counties had processed a petition as of early 2015, according to an Ohio Citizen Advocates for Addiction Recovery study.
As Mangold’s case demonstrates, awareness is one obstacle. Another comes in what, for some families, could be a hefty price tag.
Common Pleas Judge Beverly McGookey, who handles much of Erie County’s probate caseload, said she reads the law to mean that a family would have to provide the probate court – upfront – half of whatever treatment for their loved one would cost.
To put that in perspective, one local treatment center, Glenbeigh, puts the cost of a 30-day inpatient treatment program at $15,000, according to its website.
The potential cost associated with Casey’s Law cropped up as a concern among probate judges early on, said McGookey, who is a past president of the Ohio Association Of Probate Judges.
“Most people aren’t in a position to come in and plunk down $20,000 as a deposit,” she said, offering an offhand example. She added that she can, and has, used other alternatives through the probate court system to help families who might otherwise have benefited from Casey’s Law.
“I’m not saying the purpose isn’t good, but we have to be practical,” she said.
Supina spoke similarly. While the law seems to reflect good intentions, he said he wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to a family without first clarifying through the probate court exactly what the terms would be.
That’s not to say cost is prohibitive in all cases. Cuttaia pointed out that insurance or Medicaid could help defray the cost to families. Supina, too, noted that free facilities exist, although they often carry lengthy waiting periods.
For Mangold, just knowing about the law would have made all the difference.
“I felt that was a decision I was robbed of,” she said. “I would have done anything to put my son in treatment.”
Good Samaritan Law
The more recently passed Good Samaritan Law, which became effective in mid-September, generally protects those who dial 911 during overdoses by granting immunity to anyone who might risk a minor drug possession charge in the process.
It’s a law that Mangold, who thinks about the estimated 30 to 40 minutes that passed before anyone came to her son’s aid, wishes his friends had known about.
“My son’s friends didn’t know about the amnesty law,” she said. “That killed my son.”
Supina, Lawson and Kenn Bower, of Light House Sober Living in Ottawa County, said they similarly see a lack of awareness about the law – notably, they said, from the addicts who would most likely have reason to use it.
But Supina pointed out another obstacle in encouraging use of the Good Samaritan Law: ambiguity about how it actually works.
The law only covers minor drug possessions, according to Geoff Oglesby, a Sandusky-based attorney. That means it doesn’t protect against possible trafficking charges. He said it also doesn’t cover anyone who is on probation or anyone who has already been granted immunity under it more than twice.
“This is more of a qualified immunity,” Oglesby said.
Supina said he thought a more succinct version of the law could have been more effective.
“I think it might have added another layer of confusion,” he said.
That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t know about it, of course. Lawson said that getting the message out – especially to addicts – is important.
“The hard part is that the people that need to know about the law are the addicts,” Lawson said. “It has to come from someone they trust.”
Cuttaia, who’s been in close contact with Mangold since their meeting in September, said she she felt information about these laws should have been available to Thayer’s loved ones during his addiction.
“Nobody (Mangold) asked knew about Casey’s Law, and they should have,” Cuttaia said. “Nobody knew about the Good Samaritan Law, and they should have.”
“You just have a lot of entities that failed doing what needed to be done,” she said.