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The faith to face addiction

When drug addicts call Tom Lantieri, he responds with "FACE IT."

It isn't tough advice. It's Faith Activated Community Empowering Intervention Training, an interfaith preventive substance abuse program that Lantieri oversees.

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The FACE IT program educates and trains members of the clergy and concerned officials who deal with people with substance abuse problems. For Lantieri, the director of the recovery ministry at Harford Community Church, that comes naturally.

Since the inception of FACE IT in Harford County about a year ago, Lantieri has united more than 60 leaders from every religion in the county to help people with substance abuse problems.

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"Ten years ago, I was a drug dealer, a drug addict and an alcoholic," Lantieri said. "Long after my recovery, I had a lot of questions and issues. A little over four years ago, I found myself at the Harford Community Church, where I met Allan Gorman, the senior pastor. He took me under his wing. I had been going to [Alcoholics Anonymous] and the Twelve Steps program speaks of a higher power, and I wanted to find out more about it."

Gorman said the two met at church after a sermon.

"Tom came to me in search of an answer to how a life of faith could be integrated with his recovery," Gorman said. "I'd just finished preaching the Twelve Steps, taught in AA [one step a week] and I was on the last one. Tom was listening to my sermon and sensed my openness. He told me if I ever needed help dealing with people on drugs to call him."

Lantieri and Gorman talked frequently. Lantieri told Gorman he wanted to talk about some ideas he had.

"He told me he had a sense that God was calling him to make a change in his life," Gorman said. "His enthusiasm and infectious spirit were such a part of him. We were sitting there in a McDonald's, both of us crying and knowing something major was happening."

Lantieri was named director of the recovery ministry at the church.

"Tom had only been married about a year, and he had a six-figure income," Gorman said. "We talked at the church and made him an offer of $500 a month and college tuition. He went to his boss and told him he was leaving. His boss slid a blank check across the table and told him to write what he wanted on the check and they would pay it as a bonus to keep him. Tom slid our offer back to him and said that it was the offer he was taking."

As the two men worked together over the next two years, Gorman saw Lantieri as the man to lead the fight against drugs. After a year of turning down the FACE IT director's position, Lantieri accepted.

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"People kept pointing to me when they discussed possible leaders of FACE IT," Lantieri said. "I refused repeatedly. Then one day a quote came to mind: 'Opportunities of a lifetime must be seized in the lifetime of the opportunity.' It must have been the right thing for me, because within a year, I was named National Volunteer of the Year by CADCA," Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.

Because of previous failed programs, Lantieri knew he would have to be a strong leader and educator. People thought there wasn't a drug problem in Harford County. Lantieri knew better.

"For a long time there was a stigma that serious drug problems only exist in the city of Baltimore," Lantier said. "People thought there was no way their kids did drugs."

Joe Ryan, director of the Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy, said the county not only has a drug problem, but that the problem exceeds the state average.

"The Maryland Adolescent Survey from 2002 shows 40.6 percent of all Harford County seniors binge drink," said Ryan. "The state average is 28.8 percent. It shows 29 percent of all high school seniors use marijuana, and the state average is 21 percent."

Ryan said the problem has been identified but that despite the availability of federal funding, the government can't fix it.

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"Before FACE IT, family members went to faith leaders with their addiction problems and they didn't know how to deal with the problems," Ryan said. "People want their rent paid, or food bought, but we want to get to the root of the problem. When we dig deeper, we find drugs and alcohol are a problem in the home."

Ryan said his office is working well with FACE IT.

"We aren't crossing that line of separation of church and state. We are working well together. In the summer we have Bible school for two weeks," Ryan said. "The day starts out with the church lessons, and then we get two hours to come and do our stuff. It works very well."

Ryan said the best thing about Lantieri's heading FACE IT is his experience with substance abuse.

"Tom has walked the walk and talked the talk," said Ryan. "Addicts can't con him."

Lantieri said that as the voice of FACE IT, his faith and his family are guiding him. He hopes for great progress with the program, he said. .

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"My wife, Tara, has been supportive of me giving up my six-figure job and changing our lifestyle," Lantieri said. "She is understanding when I have to travel. When I made $6,000 a year, she had to be the financial supporter. My daughter, Ashton, pitches in and helps with the cooking and the cleaning. I couldn't do this without them."


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