Voorhees parents got a lesson in drug abuse from someone who’s experienced it firsthand when former addict, ex-convict and now drug counselor Michael DeLeon spoke at Voorhees Middle School last week.
DeLeon, who served 12 years in the state prison system and another two years in a halfway house before becoming a drug counselor, spoke to more than 120 parents and their children about the dangers of drug abuse and how parents can prevent their children from falling to addiction.
The presentation was billed as a parent academy as part of DeLeon’s non-profit “Steered Straight” juvenile delinquency intervention and prevention program.
First and foremost, DeLeon stressed to his audience that the opioid overdose situation in the United States had reached “epidemic” levels, as described by the Centers for Disease Control. He said he wanted Voorhees residents to realize the communities being affected today were suburban areas such as Voorhees in the middle class, upper middle class and affluent areas of the country.
“Over our lifetime, we think we’re more immune to these problems than cities like Camden, Bayonne, Patterson, Jersey City, Newark, and we’re not,” DeLeon said.
To prove his point, DeLeon described a documentary project he created after becoming a counselor where he went into Camden and interviewed 137 kids over an 11 months about their drug abuse.
According to DeLeon, not one of the kids he interviewed on the street actually lived in Camden, rather they were from places such as Cherry Hill, Runnemede or Mullica Hill. DeLeon said he even found a young woman from Cherry Hill who eventually graduated to shooting heroin after first becoming addicted to Percocet prescribed to her after a cheerleading accident.
DeLeon said the girl died from an overdose months after he interviewed her, but when interviewing the girl’s mother and grandmother, he realized the first floor of their home was bigger than his entire house.
“This is a girl who lived in an affluent city, went to an affluent school and didn’t have lack of protective factors,” DeLeon said.
Once parents accept drug abuse and overdoses have seeped into communities everywhere, DeLeon stressed the importance of parents needing to be more informed than ever before about the dangers their children face, especially in New Jersey.
“We’re four times the national average,” DeLeon said. “More people die in New Jersey every year from a drug overdose than from a car accident.”
Expanding upon former first lady Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign against drugs, DeLeon told parents just “saying no” wasn’t enough, and parents need to tell kids “how and why” to say no.
“We need to have the conversion over and over and over again,” DeLeon said. “It’s no longer ‘the talk.’ It’s the talk that you have every single week.”
DeLeon asked parents to not only talk about drug abuse to their children, but ask about their children’s friends and even kids at school they might not even know very well.
Ultimately, DeLeon guided parents to his Steered Straight website at www.steeredstraight.org where he said there were a multitude of free resources he personally vetted for parents to learn more about drug abuse, how to spot it and how to prevent it from starting.
DeLeon said he was also happy to hear many of the students who experienced his presentation during the school day had already come home and spoken to their parents about what they learned.
“I want your kids to come home and talk to you,” DeLeon said. “That’s the most important mission objective that I have.”