After being involved in drugs and gangs in New Jersey, he spent 12 years in prison and half-way houses for a gang-related homicide. Now, the Steered Straight founder is doing what he can to keep today’s youth away from drugs. “I just want to serve the community I hurt; the community I took from,” he said.
DeLeon brought his presentation to the Mountain View School District on Tuesday, March 21, holding talks with students in grades 3 through 12, with a presentation for parents and members of the community in the evening.
Five years ago, DeLeon became a drug counselor carrying a caseload of 26. “Within a span of 10 days, I lost four kids to overdose,” he said. He is now available by phone 24/7 to help anyone who would like to get into a detox program.
The experience prompted him to write, direct and produce the documentary, “Kids are Dying,” about New Jersey’s overdose epidemic in 2013. Since then, he has also made “An American Epidemic” and “Marijuana X.”
In the past, his focus has been on heroin and opioids. He said that work has made him a target of the pharmaceutical industry. DeLeon advocates that drug advertisements be removed from television. “The minute you tell the doctor what drug you want, he ceases to be your doctor and becomes your dealer,” he said.
“We’re in the middle of a synthetic storm,” DeLeon said. “Heroin is the end of the problem, the real problem starts much sooner.”
“I’m just trying to stop this pandemic,” he said. “This is the worst public, social health crisis.”
In the making of “Kids are Dying,” DeLeon found that of the 137 heroin addicts he interviewed, 121 of them began using the drug after being prescribe an opioid for pain.
Through the interviews he also found what he describes as the “trifecta gateway” – the use of tobacco (including e-cigarettes and vapes, alcohol use, and marijuana use – in people under the age of 18.
He crossed the country to make “An American Epidemic,” which he now calls a “pandemic,” talking to 500 parents of children who died from overdose.
“I’m scared out of my mind at how bad this is going to get,” he said.
The number of deaths keep rising, DeLeon said. In 2015, there were 52,404; and 2016 is on target for 75,000. He expects the death toll to hit 100,000 this year, but hopes he’s wrong.
“Heroin changes everything. It’s so cheap and addictive. It goes right to the brain,” he said.
DeLeon is also fighting the legalization of marijuana. He said the marijuana industry is using the same strategies as the tobacco industry used in the past.
In a trip to Colorado, where recreational marijuana use is legal, DeLeon said he purchased the drug from 23 dispensaries and had it tested. In it, he said, were strains of mold, pesticides banned by the USDA and fungus. He also said the THC content came back higher than listed.
Potency of marijuana has increased over the years, according to DeLeon, and it is being modified into more concentrated forms.
For parents, he advised not telling children that prescription medications are safe.
He also offers “table talks” to help parents broach the subjects of drugs, risky behavior and teen pressures with their kids.
“Our conversations have to change,” he said, adding they also need to continue. “(Kids) need the truth from their parents.”
“Don’t believe it’s not your kid. Don’t believe it’s not happening. It’s here and it’s going to get worse,” he said. “We can and need to do something.”
For more information about Michael DeLeon, Steered Straight, Inc., documentaries, as well as the downloadable “Table Talks” and other resources for parents, including the slide show presented at Mountain View last week, visit: www.steeredstraight.org.