Sam Lucania is a man on a mission.
After struggling for more than two decades with substance abuse issues, including two arrests and a 30-day stint in jail, Lucania has dedicated his life to trying to prevent other people from making the same mistakes.
In his mission, he uses public speaking appearances, he uses the book he wrote, “Hands Like You’re Praying,” and he uses his own life story to – as one critic wrote in a review of his book – “Turning his mess into a message.”
At the heart of Lucania’s message is the realization he had to face before he could truly overcome his addiction. The problem was not his parents, society, his job or even the friends he chose. The problem was looking back at him from his bathroom mirror.
“There is a saying in recovery that ‘Everywhere I went, there I was,’” Lucania said. “I was blaming everybody and everything but myself. I was looking from the outside in. I was comparing out, when I needed to me comparing in.”
Lucania said he started drinking alcohol when he was 12, living in Union, New Jersey.
“ I was running away from my problems,” he said. “I was full of anxiety and depression and I just didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. When I took that first drink, all those problems went away.”
From alcohol, Lucania moved on to marijuana, prescription pills and ecstasy. He was arrested for the first time when he was still a teenager.
“I was arrested for trying to buy cocaine at like 3 in the morning,” he said. “I was sentenced to six months probation – I wasn’t even offered treatment back then. As soon as the six months was up I moved down here.”
The change of venue did not change Lucania’s behavior, and he was soon “mixing a fifth of vodka a day “ with whatever prescription pills he could get my hands on.
“Whenever I went into somebody’s home, I would ask to use the bathroom and I would go through their medicine cabinets,” Lucania said.
Lucania said he also would forge prescriptions or make copies of legitimate prescriptions for opioids.
“That led to my second arrest,” he said. “I got a phone call from a detective on the prescription fraud unit. I turned myself in and hired a lawyer.”
This time, Lucania was sentenced to a year of probation, which was suspended as long as he successfully completed a year of probation and intensive outpatient treatment. As soon as that was completed, he gradually went back into substance abuse.
“I was fairly functional, I had all my teeth, I had a job and my car wasn’t wrecked,” he said. “This is the face of addiction. It isn’t always toothless, homeless or covered in track marks.”
As Lucania wrote in his book: “From Yale to jail from Park Avenue to park bench – alcohol does not discriminate.”
When Lucania met Rachel, his wife, he was able to hide his addiction from her until he almost died from an overdose of prescription pain pills.
“I woke up in the Loudoun hospital with a tube down my throat,” he said. “I asked my wife, ‘What happened?’ She found me and had to give me CPR until the paramedics arrived.”
Lucania said he checked into a rehab program.
“I did the 12-step program, I got back into church and I started working out,” Lucania said. “Things got really good.”
Still, Lucania was not “cured.”
“Things were going so good that I thought I could do it on my own,” he said. “I thought everything that had happened before was just a big misunderstanding. I got away from my recovery program. I got away from church I got away from everything that helped with my ‘recovery.’”
This led to Lucania’s last arrest, when he was caught on surveillance video breaking into the home of a “friend” to steal her prescription painkillers. The title of his book comes from what the officer said when he was being handcuffed: “Put your hands behind your back like you’re praying.”
This time, he was given a 30-day sentence in the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center.
“I was sentenced to three years but I only served 30 days,” he said. “Rachel was 12 weeks pregnant and had a miscarriage while I was locked up.”
Lucania finally took treatment seriously and is approaching three years with no drugs or alcohol. He and Rachel have one son, Micah, with a second boy on the way.
Lucania credits Rachel for staying with him through the hard times.
“She even co-authored the book,” Lucania said.
Lucania has committed his life to raising awareness of the issue of substance abuse, particularly the opioid crisis. He accepts his own responsibility for his problem, but he advocates for two things that could help others get off prescription drugs.
For one thing, he is a strong advocate of drug take-back programs and making sure prescription drugs are secure or returned.
“If you have unused prescription drugs in your junk drawer or your nightstand, you might as well have a loaded gun there,” Lucania said. “In fact, I would say the drugs are more dangerous, because people are likely to be afraid of the gun.”
The second thing is derived from his experience in jail.
“I was locked up with a KKK member who was charged with attempted murder and an MS 13 gang member,” he said. “My cellie was charged with aggravated sexual assault. I only saw a counselor twice the whole time I was in there.
“In Prince William County, they have a separate dorm for non-violent offenders, for possession of drugs or DUI,” he said. “They have access to the treatment they need. I think Loudoun County should take a look at that.”
In addition to his book, Lucania spends his time speaking to groups, from middle and high school students to the Loudoun County Crime Commission. At the Crime Commission meeting, he was asked about efforts to legalize marijuana – often considered a “gateway drug” to other addictions – and whether he thought that would help or hurt efforts to reduce substance abuse.
After admitting that he wasn’t sure, Lucania offered a different viewpoint on gateway drugs.
“I don’t really look at gateway drugs as much as gateway behaviors,” he said. “For example, when I talk to middle- and high-school students, I ask how many of them are vaping. A lot of them raise their hands. I tell them, ‘That is your gateway behavior.”
Lucania said he wants to raise awareness of, and dispel misconceptions about, substance use disorder.
hopes other people can learn from him and avoid the mistakes he has made.
“My goal is that other people can learn from my mistakes,” he said. “They say a smart person learns from their mistakes, but a wise person can learn from the mistakes of others.”
For more information about Lucania and “Hands Like You’re Praying,” visit samanthonyspeaks.com.1 comment