Ending the revolving drug door in Salt Lake’s Rio Grande Neighborhood

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Would Utah benefit from a version of Casey’s Law in Kentucky, which allows people to more easily order involuntary drug treatment for their adult children?

Police are in the middle of an ongoing campaign to arrest people causing trouble in the Rio Grande area of Salt Lake City – and area that could compare with any of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country. As of the end of last week, 113 people had been arrested for crimes related to substance abuse, according to a Deseret News story. Of these, 68 agreed to a deal in which they would go to a treatment center rather than to jail.

But after arriving at the center, 27 of them ended up walking away fairly quickly. They didn’t want the help.

That sort of behavior is not so unusual for people with addictions. But while the Salt Lake County sheriff told reporters the rate of participation was much better than expected, the idea that 27 addicted people – each one someone’s son, daughter, brother or sister – were allowed to simply walk back to the neighborhood to continue their destructive lifestyles, is hardly reason to celebrate.

But what if those people could be held and treated involuntarily?

Utah law allows people to be committed involuntarily for mental illness treatment under certain circumstances, but it says nothing about substance abuse treatment.

Casey’s Law was enacted in 2004 after Matthew Casey Wethington died of a heroin overdose at age 23. It allows parents or other concerned people to file a petition with a court to order someone to receive involuntary drug treatment. The petitioner must show the person is a danger to him or herself or to others. Before being confined, the person must be examined by two health professionals, including at least one doctor.

The person petitioning the court must pay all expenses or show that an insurance company will do so.

Such a law alone would not clean up the Rio Grande area. However, at least some of the addicts who frequent the area are locals with loved ones searching for ways to help them overcome addictions that hold free will hostage. From my experience, it’s safe to say many of these loved ones are desperate to find help.

A task force looking at a similar problem in Western Pennsylvania issued a report recommending a similar solution recently, only with a twist allowing first responders to involuntarily commit someone.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette identified the problem as one in which, “Medics and police rush to save people from drug overdoses, only to have them refuse treatment and fall victim to their addictions again …”

That sounds a lot like what is happening in the Rio Grande area right now.

Again from the Post-Gazette: “The report noted that medics and police are often frustrated that they have to save the same people with the anti-overdose drug naloxone repeatedly over the course of a month, week, or even day, as they continually refuse treatment. It proposed a new law allowing first responders to ‘require the overdose survivor to spend 72 hours under monitored care while receiving medical treatment.’”

Three days probably won’t cure anyone, but combine this with a form of Casey’s Law and you could ensure someone’s loved-one gets a chance to turn his or her life around.

Categories: Crime, Utah issues

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

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