Ted Stone did drugs. Then he did time. Followed by a complete turnaround.

This week, the devout 64-year-old Southern Baptist walked into the Salt Palace to ask his denomination to take a firm and official stand against substance abuse - and to help formulate a strategy to defeat it.He literally walked into the convention center, another milestone on a 3,400-mile walkathon that started April 20 in San Francisco and will end around Oct. 17 in Virginia Beach, Va. It's his second cross-country hike to call attention to America's need to commit to a drug-free lifestyle.

In response to a motion by Stone, who is a "messenger" to the convention from North Carolina, the Southern Baptist Convention Wednesday resoundingly approved formation of a task force to decide how the denomination can become directly involved in the war on drugs.

Saying the serious drug problem nationwide brings "endless pain across the country," Stone said the "drug problem belongs to us all. It belongs to the Baptists, to the Catholics, to the Mormons, to the Muslims and to the unchurched. It's a problem of all America.

"I have a dream. A dream that one day you and I and our children and our children's children will live in a land free from the plague of drug abuse."

While most Baptists don't do drugs, he acknowledged, too many of them also don't reach out to those who are hurting.

If churches don't take the lead on what Stone describes as a moral and social disease, who will? he asked, adding that churches have found it too easy to pawn substance abuse off as a problem of "those people."

Those people don't exist, he said, pointing to his own history.

Stone went to the right schools and had a nice family. He had an unblemished record for clean living when he graduated from high school. But in the early '70s, as a businessman, he became addicted to amphetamines (speed).

As a result of his addictions, he committed an armed robbery and went to prison for three years."It almost destroyed my life," he said. "I'm living proof a person who makes mistakes can overcome mistakes and someone who is addicted can get well. God gave me a second chance and now I'm doing this."

"This" is walking across America. Clad in a red, white and blue suit and waving an American flag as he walks along the highways and side roads, Stone attracts attention and people stop to ask him what he's doing.

That's exactly what he wants. Many of the people he meets sign a commitment card promising to live drug-free.

And when he gets to a town, he often speaks to local churches, sharing his history and his vision of the future. In Salt Lake City, for example, Stone spoke at Southeast Baptist Church, Bible Baptist Church and Judge Memorial High School. He also met with Gov. Mike Leavitt's chief of staff.

The newly created task force will offer its action plan during the 1999 Southern Baptist Convention.