MONTVILLE, NJ – Gang member. Drug addict. Ex-con. These are labels that fit Michael DeLeon. But he knew his purpose after “God allowed him to come out of prison, land on his feet and live through what he’d lived through,” he told a group of parents at the Senior House at a Drug Awareness Council-sponsored lecture on Feb. 12.

DeLeon said God opened the “gates of hell,” which is what he called prison, and now he is going to spend the rest of his life trying to prevent kids from becoming like him.

“Drugs and alcohol changed my life forever,” he said.

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DeLeon told the story of being abused by a priest as a child.

“Alcohol and drugs weren’t my problem,” he said. “They were how I escaped my problem.”

He said many of the addicts he has talked to shared stories of abuse as well, in addition to drinking alcohol at a young age.

DeLeon said 3,200 people died of a drug overdose in the state of New Jersey in 2017, “and we know more than 4,000 will die in 2018. Only 13% were from heroin.”

DeLeon said in 2020, a quarter million people will die in this country due to drugs.

“We’re not in the middle of an ‘opioid epidemic,’” he told the assembly. “We have an addiction pandemic. It goes so much deeper than heroin. And we’re not even scratching the surface of what needs to happen.”

DeLeon said there’s many drugs involved such as fentanyl and prescription pills.

“We can’t put our focus on one drug,” he said. “We’ve got to put our focus on the big problem.”

DeLeon said an example is that Christie signed into a law a “good bill,” in which only five days’ worth of opioid pain pills can be obtained from a dentist or doctor, but unfortunately on day five, a patient can call in and receive 30 more days’ worth. He had been asking for the five-day law since 2010 but now it’s too late because now fentanyl is available – and it’s quickly catching up to heroin in death numbers. DeLeon said many drug users start with pills – but the pills are going to be laced with fentanyl and are going to increase death rates. He said the Jersey shore is a hot market for drug dealers during prom season.

The Changing Face of Drug Addicts

DeLeon said that he wanted to make a documentary about the drug problem and the changing face of heroin, and producers told him “this is just a fad.”

DeLeon argued that no other epidemic had ever been created by the pharmaceutical industry, but couldn’t find anyone interested in sponsoring his film.

“I took my camera equipment to Camden and found someone to interview,” he said. “I found a woman who was salutatorian at her high school. She said ‘show them this.’ She looked like hell with track marks all up and down her arms. She looked haggard and much older than her 22 years. She died nine months later and the police told me she had lain there for three days. The movie is called ‘Kids are Dying.’ We have a problem, and it’s so much bigger than you think it is. We’re just seeing the beginning of this.”

DeLeon said the kids in that movie all had used nicotine, alcohol and marijuana at an early age. He calls them the “trifecta gateway.”

Against Marijuana Legalization

DeLeon says legalizing marijuana in New Jersey is a terrible idea because it is a way for politicians to tout the benefits of the tax money, but for kids to suffer the consequences.

“Your kids are the target,” he said. “They’re the target of the marijuana industry. Plus, now it’s in liquid or a mist and you’ll never smell it.”

He compared the lies he says that the marijuana industry is telling to the lies the tobacco industry told about nicotine addiction and the manufacturer of oxycontin told.

He then described his experience of buying marijuana in Colorado, having it tested, and discovering that it was several times stronger than the label described each brand to be. “Old-time” marijuana contained 5% THC. DeLeon purchased 42% THC marijuana in Colorado, and the lab found mold and pesticides in the samples. Further, he had no problem obtaining more marijuana than he was legally supposed to be able to purchase. In addition, 90% liquid THC can be obtained for vape pens.

“Marijuana is very different now,” he said. “I call is ‘Marijuana X.’ The advertising is targeted at kids and it’s not regulated by the FTC. And when perception of harm goes down, youth use increases. But marijuana hijacks the same reward pathways as opioids and attacks the cognitive function of the brain.”

DeLeon said marijuana wax is called dab and if you hear your kids talking about it, “you need to have a conversation.” Further, there’s no “breathalyzer” for marijuana. It requires a blood test to determine if a driver is driving under its influence, yet it’s out of the system in 3-4 hours, the time it takes to get the warrant to take the blood.

Connecting

DeLeon is a strong proponent of teens eating dinner with their parents five nights per week because “connection is important,” he said. He believes in it so much that he created a series of conversations to have with kids called TableTalks. The idea is to start conversations and open communication.  TableTalks are a resource of PDF presentations to spark discourse on self worth, coping mechanisms, risky behaviors and teen pressure.

“You are the most important influence in their lives,” according to the presentations, which amount to 260 conversations over 52 weeks.

“Connection is important, as well as coping skills,” DeLeon said. He advises parents to start talking about drugs and alcohol in third grade.

DeLeon is also a proponent of random drug testing as a deterrent for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. He opined that if this was done, and with a 24-point panel that included nicotine, “75% of the addiction in this country could be eliminated, because deterrence works in middle school.”

He also said he thought probably 50 to 60% of the juniors and seniors at Montville Township High School are vaping. He said nicotine stimulates the adolescent brain and changes its development. He will be coming out with a drug testing program on his website for parents to administer on their kids.

DeLeon said the biggest threats to New Jersey youth are:

  • Tobacco, “still the biggest gateway of them all, including vaping and cigarettes”
  • Alcohol, “always has been, always will be”
  • Prescription pills, “both legitimate and diverted”
  • Heroin, “cheap, widespread, adulterated and deadly”
  • Marijuana, “the lies, misconceptions, social acceptance and increasing potency – THC poison”
  • Methamphetamine, “it’s rising faster than any other illicit drug, throughout the Midwest, and now into the East Coast”
  • Synthetic cannibinoids (“spice”), “still available online and with crooked retailers, also Kratom and other synthetics”
  • Over-the-counter medicines and synthetic chemicals, overseas products

DeLeon said that regarding the cause of drug addiction, “blame is everywhere – and it’s going to take a lot of ‘ingredients’ to solve the problem.”

DeLeon is passionate about convincing parents to talk to their kids about drugs, and convincing kids not to start.

“All I want to do is talk to these kids so they don’t end up like me,” DeLeon told the assembly. “I’ll go anywhere and talk – I’ll talk to anyone.”

DeLeon can be found online at SteeredStraight.

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