Faith & Service

Alumnus who suffered from drug abuse now ministers to others

February 26, 2019

This story is part of a feature package, “Opioids: A National Crisis,” about how Liberty University is helping put the spotlight on a major issue through a series of town hall events. Also read a related story about how students participated in the town hall with First Lady Melania Trump.

Rick Amato (’87, ’15) was on top of the world.

That’s how he described the time before a back injury sent him on a downward spiral.

After graduating from Liberty, Amato became a preacher. He founded Rick Amato Ministries and has traveled to more than 47 countries to spread the Gospel.

But in 2004, Amato sustained a back injury while in Moscow. After reinjuring himself in 2008 while traveling in Cuba, Amato was prescribed pain medication.

“The doctor gave the pills to me, so I thought, ‘They must be OK,’” Amato said. But the high dosage kept him dependent on the pain medication and eventually led to an addiction. “There was no exit strategy. I tried to quit seven times, and each time it got worse and worse. It wasn’t until 2013 that I entered rehab. When I came out, I went on medical leave from my ministry and studied addiction. I wanted to know why I could be a Christian and become enslaved to fentanyl.”

He returned to Liberty shortly after leaving rehab to pursue a master’s degree in human services counseling, with a specialization in addictions and recovery, through the university’s online program.

“I look back now on what happened to me and realize how hijacked I got on prescription drugs,” he said. “Now I feel like it’s my life’s purpose to help others, whether it’s the masses or just one individual at a time. The end of addiction is always the same – jails, institutions, or death.”

Amato said his training at Liberty gave him a deeper perspective on how to help people struggling with addiction.

“It is a brain disease,” Amato said. “We have to take the stigma away.”

Liberty President Jerry Falwell invited Amato to take the stage before the November town hall event began. Amato shared his story of battling and overcoming addiction and the work that his ministry is doing to lead a “War on Addiction.” Amato has spoken on the subject to more than 1 million young people around the world. He said the best way to educate people on the opioid crisis is to start with the younger generation.

“We have to reach young people,” Amato said. “It’s this generation that is dying from this epidemic. It’s a disease. Addicts are not bad people. They’re sick people who need to get well.”


Anyone battling addiction is encouraged to call 800-662-HELP (4357). At Liberty, students can call Student Counseling Services at (434) 582-2651 or contact an LU Shepherd at (434) 592-5411.

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