A presentation called " Vaping Me Crazy " was held at the University of Providence on Monday evening to educate parents and others about vaping. The event was organized by Cascade City-County Health Department, Cascade County Substance Abuse Prevention Alliance (SAPA), Alliance for Youth, University of Providence, and Steered Straight.
The presenter was Michael DeLeon, the founder and CEO of the non-profit organization Steered Straight. The organization and Michael’s goal is to help educate kids and their parents on drug abuse, with the hopes of preventing people under the age of 21 from getting addicted to drugs or alcohol.
““Steered Straight is a non-profit organization. I founded it in 2007 after leaving state prison,” DeLeon said. “I spent 12 years incarcerated in New Jersey state prisons for drug and gang-related crimes, and when I got out of prison, I wanted to make a difference. The 'Scared Straight' phenomenon doesn’t work. I don’t want to scare kids straight, I want to steer them with cautionary tales, real facts and education, life experience. Steer them straight into living a drug-free life.”
DeLeon’s two stints in prison lasted five years and seven years respectively. To anyone else, that much time at home would push them toward a career that allows them to be with their families. But Michael has been on the road for weeks, and he won’t get home until at least the end of March.
“I didn’t think anyone would ever let me speak in a school,” he said with a smile. “Who would want the ex-convict to come talk to their kids? But now I’ve become the number one booked school presenter in the country. So I’ve spoken in all 50 states. Elementary, middle, high school and colleges all over the country...Tonight at University of Providence I’m going to have the opportunity to talk to this county, this community. I spoke in three of the schools today, I’ll speak in three more schools tomorrow. I have a chance now to educate this community, to have everyone on the same page.”
Michael’s presentation focuses on the different types of drugs that can be readily available to anyone looking for them, and how it’s not always the people that you would expect who experience their downfall due to drug abuse.
He told MTN that in an earlier presentation to schools in Belt and other Montana cities, the response was overwhelmingly positive. When he first finished his presentation, the crowd of middle and high schoolers sat there quietly, taking it all in. Then, almost every hand in the room shot up.
“We can educate kids,” said DeLeon, who was overjoyed with the response he received from the students. “I have so many ways to do that. I have educational material, I have evidenced-based curriculum for schools. If we just educate the kids and we don’t educate the parents, we’re missing that opportunity because kids have to hear the same message from parents. We all have to be on the same page. So parents have to have the same information that kids are presented to.”
The overarching goal for Michael and drug abuse prevention organizations around the country is zero percent usage for cigarettes, vapes, and other drugs. Though this might be a tall task, Michael is trying to stay realistic.
“I don’t believe we’re ever going to have a drug-free world,” he said. “It’s still my goal. I want to get to a drug free world for this kid and this family and this person. Get them that drug free world, I don't know that we’ll ever get to a zero vaping and a zero cigarette use. It’s the number one cause of death in America, but still 13 percent of adult Americans smoke cigarettes. That’s crazy. Will we get to zero percent? I don’t believe we can. That’s my goal….I do believe and I want to believe that we can get to zero percent for kids.”
According for the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, cigarette-related illnesses account for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States. The number of vaping-related lung injuries, over 1,300 for 2019, still lags behind, but Michael believes that those numbers could be on the same level before too long.
“My fear is that vaping will be a contributing cause of death, will become the number one cause of death in America,” said DeLeon. “It will change not only for nicotine. Combustible cigarettes will change to an electronic delivery method. The E-Device will become the drug delivery method for every drug on Earth. We will vape heroin, we will vape meth, we will vape cocaine. We already are, but it’s going to be widespread and systemic.”
For more information on Steered Straight and the presentations that Michael gives all over the country, click here to visit the Steered Straight website .