Sheriff: 78% of overdose victims says they used marijuana at a young age

Posted at 11:23 PM, Feb 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-27 23:23:29-05

A poll released by Goucher College Monday found 58 percent of Marylanders support legalizing marijuana. 

Tom Lantieri isn't one of them. He's been clean for two decades, but continues to live with the reminder of what drugs can do to a family.

"In 8th grade we went to Skateland, a bunch of us and one of the kids in my class's older brother was selling marijuana and she was able to get us a few joints," he recalled. I thought it was fun. I thought it was harmless wasn't hurting anybody, but by the age of 21 I was married and divorced; two children from two different women."

And that's when Lantieri realized he was waging a losing battle with addiction. 

"Drugs were out of control. Alcohol was out of control, and I really felt like I wanted to die," he said. That started a journey that's been 22 years in the making."

RELATED: Poll finds public support for legalizing marijuana grows

Lantieri celebrated more than 20 years of sobriety by coaching young men struggling with addiction and offering support through treatment centers like Hope’s Horizon. He knows from personal experience he can't save everyone.

"Every day, every day, his football picture sits on my nightstand," Lantieri said. "I say good morning to him every day."
On September 21, 2014 Tom's son Brandon died from an overdose. He didn't live to see his 30th birthday.
"He got pretty drunk one night and very out of character stopped with a friend with the intent of buying cocaine to keep the party going and it ended up being heroin," Lantieri said. "This would have been the first time that he'd done heroin and he didn't wake up the next morning."

His life ended with heroin, but Lantieri says like him his son began his drug use with marijuana and the numbers show they're not alone.

"It's going to be convincing our young people never to try it," Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said. 

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In trying to beat the heroin epidemic Gahler says they're tracking data from overdoses.
"We started asking the specific questions of those who were able to give us a response that had survived the overdose and were willing to talk to us. 78 percent out of the 165 overdoses, through three-quarters of the end of last year, three-quarters of the year, 78 percent indicated that they used marijuana at a young age as beginning their path to drugs. "

"Recreational marijuana will just lead us farther down the road to harder drug abuse."

As they battle the rising number of opioid overdoses and death, Gahler says Harford County is committed to reaching them before they make a mistake they can't come back from.

"Heroin you try it once, it may be your last time, Gahler said. "It could be it that quickly and if it doesn't kill you right away, then you're on the pattern of addiction."

"I learned long ago that this illness is jails, institution and death," Lantieri said. "Brandon had DWI, he had 30 days in Harford Detention Center. I got him into treatment and the next thing on the list was dying."

See also: Harford County district court program aimed to fight opioid dependency

Lantieri lives with that, so he's committed his life to saving someone else’s.

"Brandon didn't die in vain," he said. "You know I will get up every day trying to share his story with other parents. I wake up every day asking God if someone needs help to point them in my direction."