Lindsey Collinsworth nearly died alone in a stairwell.
A few years later, the Catholic high school graduate and recovering addict has a job she enjoys, a baby on the way and the most supportive boyfriend she’s ever had. Actually, thanks to a surprise Christmas Day proposal, he’s now her fiancé.
The couple has an unusual link. Before Lindsey met Evan Ober, both of their families hauled them before judges to force them into long-term drug treatment. Twice.
Lindsey and Evan once cursed their relatives. They felt betrayed. Now, both are drug-free and thriving — something they credit to “Casey’s Law,” the under-used Kentucky tool that allows involuntary addiction treatment.
“It’s somebody who loves you intervening in your life when you’re not thinking clearly because you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” said Lindsey, 30.
“When you sober up, you’re gonna be thankful someone valued your life when you didn’t.”
The law allows loved ones to petition a judge to order drug or alcohol treatment if two qualified health professionals agree that the drug use rises to the level of addiction, the addict is a danger to himself or others, and that the addict could benefit from treatment. The law is named after a 23-year-old Kentuckian who never got that help.
Now, a judge can order treatment ranging from a couple of months to 360 days and can jail anyone who fails to comply.
Only 49 of the Commonwealth’s 120 counties used Casey’s Law last year, issuing 230 orders for treatment, according to the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts. That’s despite losing 1,400 people to drugs in 2016, when federal figures ranked Kentucky’s overdose death rate fifth-worst in the nation. Last year’s death toll is still being tallied but is expected to be even higher.
Many believe that people can’t kick drugs unless they want to get sober so badly that they seek treatment on their own. But the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and some addiction specialists, say “treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective.”
A growing number of states are considering forced treatment laws similar to the one in place in Kentucky since 2012, while detractors assert a constitutional right to refuse treatment.
Lindsey sees it this way: “I had to have something over my head, to be put in handcuffs or some kind of legal consequence or it would have killed me.”
Casey’s Law cases are confidential.Hearings are held behind closed doors and documents are sealed. For this story, Lindsey, her fiancé and her parents agreed to speak because they want to help others.
Lindsey had tried everything to avoid court. She shouted threats, vowing to never speak to her parents again and to run away from any recovery program.
When that didn’t work, she cried and offered to go to short-term recovery on her own: “Give me one more chance. I can do this. Please!”
But her parents knew she had tried that many times before, always relapsing.
Her pleas continued all the way to court.
Her mother, Michelle, said it was “embarrassing” having to ask the judge — a stranger — to get involved in a family crisis, something they initially hid from relatives and friends. Lindsey called it “humiliating.” Both now say it was necessary.
“Her days were numbered,” the mother said. “She was going to die.”
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‘Praying every night not to wake up’
As a teen, Lindsey focused on her weaknesses instead of her strengths. She wanted to be thinner, alternating between anorexia and bulimia. She said some of the guys she dated reinforced her insecurities.
She struggled academically at her Catholic high school and in college. So she was easy prey when a coworker at a major family restaurant chain offered her some pills for energy to work more shifts and study longer.
She took classes at a community college, envisioning a career as a police or corrections officer.
But soon, she became addicted toOxyContin, popping two or three a day. Over time, the drug shot up in price, costing her $65 for each pill. At age 20, she was offered heroin for $20 as a cheaper alternative.
With one hit, she was hooked.
She eventually needed hundreds of dollars a day to get enough just to avoid being sick.
So Linsdey — who once sang in a chorus at Notre Dame Academy, a Northern Kentucky college preparatoryschool — started selling her body for her next fix.
Overwhelmed by feelings of shame, she dropped out of school, broke up with her boyfriend and moved back in with her parents.
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She began to view herself as a failure, “a junkie” unworthy of happiness. She couldn’t visualize a better life.
Her parents initially suspected youthful angst, not drug addiction. Then her father, Rusty Collinsworth, read a text from Lindsey that torpedoed their lives.
“I’m sick. I need help. I’m addicted to heroin. And I’m terrified.”
“I had no idea the power of heroin, of this disease, that our lives had changed and would never be the same,” Lindsey’s mother said.
Lindsey resisted long-term treatment.
Then in 2009, her parents did something they couldn’t have imagined. They faced off against her in court.
They sat in a Kenton County courtroom at a table, next to a prosecutor. Lindsey sat at another table with an attorney appointed to represent her interests.
“I felt like Judas,” Lindsey’s mother said. “Here I am in court testifying against my own daughter.
“She was on the opposing side.”
But the mother decided it was better for Lindsey to be angry and estranged than dead.
The Circuit Court judge ordered Lindsey into treatment for nine to 12 months.
Back at home, her parents helped her pack a bag and drove her 88 miles to a Louisville treatment center.
Within a month, Lindsey walked away.
The judge ordered her back to court and she agreed to short-term outpatient treatment. But she soon relapsed. She took her parents’ car and her brother’s cell phone to hunt for drugs.
Her parents had her arrested for theft.
“We let her sit; we didn’t bail her out,” her mother said.
Lindsey agreed to a plea deal that sent her back to a live-in treatment program. She stayed a few months but left early and disappeared, cutting off contact with her family for about a month.
For a few more years, she was in and out of treatment centers and kept relapsing. She also ended up pregnant, having a little girl, Peyton, who her parents are raising.
Lindsey didn’t want to give up her daughter. But she would plan a visit to her parents’ home to spend time with Peyton, only to spend most of her time texting or nodding off.
Lindsey eventually allowed her parents to adopt.
“I knew I wasn’t in the right state of mind to raise a kid and give her what she needed,” Lindsey said.
As Lindsey’s drug use continued, she lost friends to overdoses.
“I started thinking they were the lucky ones,” she said. “They got the easy way out and I’m still stuck in this misery.
“I was praying every night not to wake up in the morning.”
On March 31, 2015, Lindsey’s “using buddy” injected what she thought was heroin into her arm at her apartment two miles south of Cincinnati. She now believes it was a fatal dose of fentanyl, a deadly synthetic increasingly hidden in other drugs. When Lindsey overdosed, the guy dragged her body out of her apartment and abandoned her in a stairwell.
When she came to, police and firefighters hovered over her. She was told she had been dead for five minutes. Heroin victims can often be revived with one dose of Narcan, a nasal spray of the antidote naloxone. Lindsey needed four.
The day she was released from the hospital, she sought more drugs.
Again, her mother hurried to save her, filing a second Casey’s Law petition in May 2015.
Within eight days, they were in court for a hearing before a new judge in Campbell County. The judge ordered Lindsey into medication-assistedtreatment with Vivitrol.
But the family couldn’t find an available bed at a place that allowed Vivitrol, so Lindsey entered an abstinence-only program. After four months, the center kicked her out for popping herbal pain pills. The judge found her in contempt of court and ordered her to spend 30 days in jail — then return to treatment and remain drug-free for a year.
This time, Lindsey detoxed the hard way. A fellow inmate held her hair as she puked in the cell’s toilet until she collapsed on the concrete floor. Again and again.
After a few weeks, she began to reflect on her life and felt ready for residential treatment. This time, she finished the program and stayed clean for more than a year.
A mutual friend introduced her to Evan. He was funny, kind and even opened the car door for her. And he was patient with his young son and her daughter.
He, too, had gotten clean from a drug addiction only after his relatives filed two Casey’s Law petitions.
Both were in a good place, focused on recovery with steady jobs they enjoyed — Evan as a shift lead at a third-party retailer for Amazon and Lindsey a server at a sushi restaurant.
After what they’d both been through, the couple relished the simple pleasures of a normal life — like outings with their children to the zoo, bowling, fishing and movie nights at their apartment.
Lindsey’s life finally seemed on track.
But something unexpected was about to jeopardize it all.
There was no traumatic event. No relative’s death, job setback or breakup to push Lindsey to the breaking point.
She relapsed anyway.
After 16 months of sobriety, someone brought her meth, she said, “and I didn’t say no.”
It happenedin March 2017 when a co-worker took her to a house to hang out. Lindsey felt hesitant but ignored her instincts.
A small group was watching television, high on methamphetamine. They looked so carefree. Lindsey, who had never tried meth before, had been irritated by issues with her roommate and longed to de-stress. Without thinking, she took a hit.
Guilt overrode the buzz. The next morning she wept.
One afternoon of meth turned into a couple of weeks of heroin. She could feel addiction’s clutches yanking her down again.
Lindsey finally had built a life she enjoyed, but she was risking that life with each hit — especially given the threat of hidden fentanyl.
“I knew that if I didn’t go (detox) then I was just going to spiral down and probably die out there,” she said.
She also realized her parents wouldn’t hesitate to file a third Casey’s Law petition.
They didn’t have to.
She did something she had never done before — she called to find a detox bed and willingly sought help.
She said the roughest part of her brief relapse was calling Evan, who said he was “heartbroken.”
Evan called his sponsor, who reminded him that he couldn’t save her butcould offer encouragement. “If you just go in on emotion and tell her you’re done,” the sponsor said, “that could push her out further.”
Evan assured her in a letter that he wouldn’t abandon her, but he resolved: “I can’t endanger myself or watch you self-destruct.”
Lindsey sent a friend to tell her mother about the relapse.
“I’m here about Lindsey,” the guy said in a soft voice, causing the mother’s legs to weaken and her hands to tremble. She fell back on the couch, thinking she might faint.
“Are you here to tell me she’s dead?” she asked through sobs.
“No, no, no,” the young man said. “She’s in detox. She checked herself in.”
“Oh gosh,” Lindsey’s mother replied. “Not again.”
‘She got back up’
Lindsey has remained sober for a year, and is finally looking to the future.
She’s planning a wedding to Evan, 29, who dropped to one knee to propose in front of her family. And she and her mom are hunting for pastel blue baby clothes for a boy due this summer.
She spends a lot of time examining why she kept relapsing.
At the time of her last slip, she had been working a lot of hours and skipping group support meetings for addicts in recovery. She hadn’t seen her family as much as she used to and was letting stress build up without release.
Since then, she has vowed to keep her recovery her top priority. That means limiting her friendships to a small group she trusts to help her stay sober.
It also means faithfully attending group meetings, leaning on her sponsor and going to a therapist.
“I know my self-worth, something I struggled to find for years,” Lindsey said.
She credits her breakthrough to finding a counselor she trusts enough to delve deep into the roots of her addiction.
“It’s not a perfect journey, but it does not mean that all hope is lost,” Lindsey’s mother said. “Relapses are expected with this disease.
“But she got back up.”
Last summer, Lindsey and her parents enjoyed their first family vacation in a decade, traveling to Florida with Evan, his son, Decklan, 5, and Peyton, 7.
After years of strife over Lindsey’s addiction, it felt like a milestone.
Lindsey’s mother snapped photos as Lindsey flew kites on the beach and patted mounds of sand with Evan and the kids.
Later, tucked under a beach umbrella, she listened to their shrieks and laughs as they splashed in the condo pool.
“It just seemed so normal,” Lindsey’s mother said.
“And not too long ago, my husband and I thought we’d be burying her.”
She’s convinced Lindsey’s and Evan’s transformations were possible because of the 2004 Kentucky law — the Matthew Casey Wethington Act for Substance Abuse Intervention.
Casey’s mother, Charlotte, pushed to get other parents a tool that she didn’t have to save her son, who once loved skateboarding, collecting baseball cards and playing guitar.
When Casey balked at long-term treatment, his mother recalls being repeatedly told: “He had to want to, he had to lose enough, and he had to hit rock bottom.” She, and many who specialize in addiction, now view those myths as dead wrong.
Casey died of a heroin overdose in 2002.
Lindsey and Evan now want to honor the stranger behind the law that saved them.
The couple, planning for their son’s birth in July, has chosen his middle name.
Reporter Beth Warren: firstname.lastname@example.org; 502-582-7164; Twitter @BethWarrenCJ. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/bethw.