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Why aren’t more people getting addiction help with Ricky’s Law?


Tina Cooper says her son just turned 24 years old the day before his birthday she saw him on the side of the road, slumped over high on dope by a bus station as she was driving home from work.

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“I know my son,” Cooper said. “I know he has a mental illness and I know from seeing prior people on drugs it’s not a good thing to approach somebody like that. And so I was torn as to whether to stop or to just keep on going and I chose to keep on going.”

Cooper says the decision to drive off was gut wrenching as a mother.

“For one, I didn’t want my son to know that I had seen him like that,” she said. “It’s already hard enough on him knowing the damage he’s doing to himself and to his family. I just didn’t want to give him more anguish as a reason to do more drugs, so I kept going.”

Cooper says her son’s been an addict for over five years, and for the family, it’s been hell. And she says King County is making an impossible situation even harder.

“I have written countless letters to the judge directly begging him to leave my son in jail,“ Cooper said. “And every time I go to court I beg, ‘Please, just keep him in there. At least I know he’s safe.’ This slap on the hand and let him out to go do dope again. It’s like this revolving door of not giving a (expletive) about our kids.”

Cooper says she is frustrated by the lack of help.

“I can’t get police, I can’t get courts, I can’t get doctors, I can’t get jail, I can’t get anybody to help and say, ‘Okay, this is enough with this one, we need to make it so he can’t leave somewhere,'” Cooper said.

But there is help for addicts and their families, it’s called Ricky’s Law.

Ricky’s Law went into effect in 2018. It allows for involuntary treatment for addicts whose substance-use disorder renders them at-risk of serious harm to themselves or others.

Lauren Davis is the Executive Director for the Washington Recovery Alliance, a State Representative, and a champion of Ricky’s Law. She says the majority of the over 500 addicts involuntarily committed have gone on to receive continued treatment.

“For those who are getting care, it’s been very effective,” Davis said. “I have numerous stories of individuals who have overdosed and then been detained under Ricky’s Law and are now in long term recovery. But it’s wildly underused and not because of bed capacity, but because of bureaucratic, contract and implementation issues that we are actively working through.”

Right now, under Ricky’s Law, there are two facilities operating — one in Chehalis and the other in Spokane — with a total of 45 beds.

“We’ve seen really dispirit implementation statewide,” Davis said. “Our largest and most populous county, which is King County, which has the largest number of individuals who would need services under Ricky’s Law has not been implementing the law because they couldn’t secure an ambulance contractor who would transport patients to the Western Washington Ricky’s Law facility, which is located in Chehalis. As a consequence to that several other implementation issues only about 30 percent of the states 45 beds that are allotted for Ricky’s Law have been used at any given time.”

Davis says the implementation of Ricky’s Law would be much more effective in King County where the need is greatest. The first facility in King County isn’t expected to open until the end of 2019.

But according to King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert, we have space now, if we think outside the box.

“Using spaces that people didn’t think were useful in the past have turned out to be successful and we need to look at all spaces,” Lambert said.

Lambert believes that Ricky’s Law is a shift in policy.

“For me, one of the things that is not happening is that we have to hold people accountable,” Lambert said. ”People get scared by that word. But you hold people accountable to the level that they are able to be accountable. And if they aren’t able to be accountable, then we as a society need to say look, the doctors, therapist and court is going to decide what you need and if you’re not capable of doing it then we will decide for you that you need to go to detox or that you need to go to counseling or you need to get mental health treatment.”

Councilwoman Lambert says at some point we need to say enough is enough.

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“But I really appreciate Ricky’s Law,” Lambert said. “I think that is a really important philosophical switch that we need to make. Right now, it’s kind of hands-off and wait until somebody comes to us and says I need help and then offer them services.”

Meantime, Cooper says the county continues to blow through money to help the homeless when it should be implementing Ricky’s Law and funding long term treatment.

“Where’s all this tax money going? Because homelessness is going up,” Cooper said. “I haven’t seen one real treatment center or shelter built with all that money for people like my son.”

Ricky’s Law calls for the creation of nine facilities for involuntary commitment to be created around the state by 2026.

Davis says if you want to have your loved one involuntarily committed, it would most likely happen at the emergency room, after a drug overdose, suicide attempt or health issues related to addiction. Davis recommends advising the healthcare team that you want them to call for an evaluation for a possible detention under Ricky’s law.

“Part of what a judge will consider is the patient’s history,” Davis said. “You can begin now with gathering hospital records, treatment admissions, proof of continued use (photos, texts, etc.), jail records, etc. Any proof that your loved one is at-risk of harming themselves or others and/or that they are gravely disabled by their addiction.”

The Washington State Institute of Public Policy said it will be doing a study on the efficacy of Ricky’s Law.

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