Episode 13: Ending the War on Addicts with founder of Steered Straight, Michael DeLeon
Episode 13: Ending the War on Addicts with founder of Steered Straight, Michael DeLeon
Michael DeLeon is the founder of the Steered Straight program, which aims to educate the world’s youth on the dangers of vaping and other substance abuse. Following a traumatic childhood and a battle with addiction, Michael emerged from prison with a passion to reform the system and help others. Tune in to be inspired by his unquenchable passion for ending stigma, treating trauma, and saving every single life that he can.
Learn more about Michael DeLeon: https://www.steeredstraight.org/it-cant-happen-to-me/
Alyssa Scolari [00:23]:
Hello folks, and happy Tuesday. We’ve got another awesome episode lined up for you today. I was personally just taken aback by this episode. I am recording the bio for our guest speaker after I’ve already recorded the episode with him, and I really just have to say, you guys are going to love this one. His story is fascinating, and it’s inspiring, and it’s heartbreaking, and there are so many great nuggets of wisdom in here. So, I am really happy that he was able to come on the show, and I am so excited that he is able to share his word, and that we were able to record together, and hopefully even just get the message out to one person, when it comes to prison reform, and drug addiction, that things desperately need to change.
I will introduce him. Our guest speaker today for episode 11 is Michael DeLeon. He is a successfully acclimated ex-offender who, after nearly eight years of drug addiction, and gang involvement, spent 12 years in state prison, and halfway houses for a gang-related homicide. Michael pled guilty in a very emotional, and complicated case involving the murder of his own mother, by people tasked to kill him.
Since Michael’s release from prison, he has earned three associates degrees, a baccalaureate degree in business management with a minor in criminal justice, and a CADC educational certificate. Michael is now in the process of obtaining his tobacco specialist certification from the University of Kentucky School of Nursing, his master’s degree in social work at Liberty University School of Social Work, as well as pursuing his LCADC.
Michael DeLeon is on a mission, a mission to educate the youth to stay on the right path when it comes to serious life issues, especially drugs. He has become the number one booked school presenter in the country. Michael has spoken to more than 7 million students, and young adults in more than 6,000 schools and facilities.
As a published author, and international motivational speaker, and educator, Michael has delivered evidence-based student programs in all 50 states, and numerous other countries. Michael lives by the mantra, “I don’t want to help one kid, I want to help them all.” Hey, Mike. Thanks for being here with us. How are you today?
Michael DeLeon [00:23]:
Good. How you doing today?
Alyssa Scolari [03:13]:
Good. Would you be able to just start us off by telling us a little bit more about… I mean, you are the founder of Steered Straight, but how did you come up with the idea? What is the work that you guys do? Give me all the details.
Michael DeLeon [03:29]:
Sure. Well, I started in 2007. I founded Steered Straight after spending 12 years in prison. Basically, at this point in my life, I have 45 years of personal experience, life, and lived experience with addiction, suicide, alcoholism. So, getting addicted at the age of 11, and now I’m unfortunately 56 years of age, so 45 years of personal experience with addiction, being addicted, suffering from incarceration, 12 years in prison, being in recovery, and now working with addicts, and people in recovery 365 days a year.
It’s a mission. So, in 2007, I got out of prison, and I founded Steered Straight. While I was incarcerated, I was involved in the Scared Straight program, and everybody remembers Scared Straight. It’s still in existence today to an extent.
Alyssa Scolari [04:31]:
Oh, I didn’t know it still existed. I thought that they stopped that.
Michael DeLeon [04:35]:
Yeah. In probably 40 prisons around the country, they have a Scared Straight-type program. They call it all sorts of different names. But, many people’s theory is that it works, that you can bring kids who are at risk, or on the wrong path, into a jail, or prison and scare them. We’re going to scare kids straight. Well, I can prove to you it-
Alyssa Scolari [04:59]:
It doesn’t work.
Michael DeLeon [05:00]:
It doesn’t work. I can prove to you negative reinforcement doesn’t work. But just on the Scared Straight phenomenon, the theory that Scared Straight will scare a kid. They studied Scared Straight for 25 years, and 86% of the kids who came into Scared Straight were incarcerated as an adult. 86%. So, that shows you it doesn’t work, right? The kids who were supposed to have been scared straight so they don’t end up in prison, ended up in prison.
And so, I got involved in the Scared Straight program, and I didn’t like it. I did it, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the negative reinforcement. I didn’t like scaring the kids, and threatening them, and cursing at them, and spitting in their face. I didn’t like it.
But at the end of the Scared Straight session, you got one-on-one with a kid. You got about 30 minutes to talk with a kid one-on-one, and I literally lived for that half an hour, because then I could talk to a kid, and pour my heart out, and tell them how I ended up in prison, what happened in my life that I didn’t have a chance to share with him, and I could share the hope with him, and I could not scare him, but just steer him.
It came to me sitting in a cafeteria in the prison one day. I told a kid, “Man, I’m not going to scare you. I’m trying to steer you.” And then it just stuck, Steered Straight. So, when I got out of prison, I said, “That’s exactly what I want to do.” I want to steer kids towards a positive, healthy lifestyle. I want to steer kids towards making positive, healthy choices, and decisions, and I started learning about rational emotive behavioral therapy, and consequential thinking.
I started reading all about CBT, and REBT, and I became an Ellis Institute degreed person. I came out of prison, I got seven college degrees, wrote books, I became a documentary filmmaker. I have four award-winning films. I have two more films that are in post production right now, all in some way, shape, and form having to do with addiction and recovery.
So, it’s my life mission. I work seven days a week at it. We’re dealing with people… My biggest mission is prevention. I listen to people often say that the war on drugs didn’t work, and it makes me laugh now. I say, “What do you mean the war on drugs?” And they say, “You know, the war on drugs.” We never had a war on drugs. We never ever had a war on drugs. The war on drugs was a war on drug addicts. That’s what the war was, right?
Alyssa Scolari [07:31]:
Michael DeLeon [07:31]:
We went to war with addiction, but we didn’t. We went to war with addicts, and we went to war with minorities, and we went to war with the poor. That’s what we went to war with. We built a prison industrial complex on the backs of minorities, the poor, and the addicted. That’s what we did. So, we didn’t have a war on drugs. We had a war on drug addicts, and we built a prison industrial complex on the backs of those families and communities. That’s what we did.
So, I want a new war. I want a war on addiction. That’s what the war needs to be on, addiction. And we need to come together, stop working in silos. We need to sit down, and figure out what all our shared goals are, and we need to speak up against the people who are misinformed, and uninformed about safe injection sites, for instance. There’s people that want safe places. They’re trying to put one in Philly, but I know of in New York, there’s people believe that we can take heroin addicts, and save their lives if we just give them safe places to shoot their heroin. It’s asinine.
But, I don’t just disagree, or render an opinion. I do it with life experience, lived experience, and proof. There are certain parts of harm reduction that make sense that we need to do. Clean needles, safe, and [inaudible 00:09:02] very, very rigid. Suboxone and [inaudible 00:09:05] for doctors making tons of money on it. We don’t need to have people on these chemicals, and these prescription drugs for seven to ten years. That’s not recovery, you know?
Alyssa Scolari [09:16]:
Michael DeLeon [09:17]:
We need to help people deal with their underlying issues. If you go from heroin to Vivitrol, heroin to suboxone, heroin to methadone, fine. But if you’re not dealing with your trauma, your childhood sexual abuse, your physical abuse, your adverse childhood experiences, your depression and anxiety, then all you’re doing is switching one drug for another.
They’re on chemicals, medication-assisted treatment in those early stages of recovery, yeah, that’s recovery, absolutely. But if you’re on methadone for seven years, and you’ve never found yoga, and music, and different things to balance your life, you’re not in recovery. Recovery is a part of life. It’s not life, right?
So, we’ve got to be honest about these things. We’ve got to speak out, not just when it’s politically correct, but we’ve got to speak out when it’s not politically correct. We’ve got to tell the truth, because, I never forget this past year, in 2019, how overdose numbers were down. We’re on the right path. We’ve got a 5% reduction in overdose death. And I looked around at people and I’m like, “Seriously, you’re cheering about a 5% reduction in overdose death?” And they’re like, “Well, at least it hasn’t gone up.”
And I was like, “No, you’re wrong. It has gone up. The numbers are wrong. But let’s say I’m wrong, and you’re right, and we did have a 5% reduction in overdose death. This is a blip on a radar. The only reason… The only reason we had a decrease in the reported overdose death in this country is because China interrupted the supply of fentanyl into our country.”
President Trump got President Xi of China to stop the fentanyl flow into our country. What the Chinese cartels, the South American cartels, the Central American cartels did, was it took them six to eight months to reroute those fentanyl flows, and they did that, and now we’ve got a surge in fentanyl overdose death in our country.
So, 2019 is going to be drastically increased. 2020, we will have over 100,000 overdoses, because of COVID, because of the lockdowns, because of unemployment, because of fear, anxiety, depression, because we let alcohol become an essential business, because we emptied the county jails, and people who were close to release of state prisons, we blanket released people because of COVID, and we didn’t prepare people. So, domestic violence is up, child abuse is up, sexual abuse is up, human trafficking is up, suicide is up, overdose is up, crude death is up, despair death is up. It’s a big, big problem.
But we’re not addressing what’s going on. And then we’re in the middle of this divisive election, so nobody wants to talk about anything else except this stupid, stupid political bull crap. And we’ve got people [inaudible 00:12:20] not to rant and rave, but this is my life 24 seven. I hate to sleep. I wish I didn’t have to sleep. It would be 24 seven action. But I’m tired of losing kids, I’m tired of losing people, I’m tired of burying people, I’m tired of seeing parents bury their kids, kids bury their siblings. I’m tired of seeing kids burying their parents. I’m tired of it. Right? I’m tired of it. We’ve got to fight harder.
Alyssa Scolari [12:53]:
Yeah. I mean, God, there’s so much gold in everything that just came out of your mouth. I mean, even this idea, right? I’ve never heard it put this way before, but I got chills when you said it, which is, “We never had a war on drugs. We had a war on drug addicts.” And I don’t think anything could be more true. I mean, that statement right there in itself is just mind blowing, and I agree with you. I think we need to kick the stigma to the curb, and we need to stop talking about everything but drugs.
Michael DeLeon [13:31]:
Alyssa Scolari [13:34]:
I just know somebody recently who died of a fentanyl that they thought that they were just getting regular weed. It was laced with fentanyl, and he just graduated high school, and now he’s dead. And it’s just… I mean, overdoses kill. It’s one of the top the top killers, right, in the US?
Michael DeLeon [13:57]:
Yeah, well, under 50 it’s the number one cause. So, drugs, drug overdose, and alcohol poisoning is the number four cause of death for 15 to 24. So, it depends on who you’re talking about. But, overall, it’s really, really monstrous. I mean, your number one cause of death in America is heart disease, right? Number one, number two is cancer, and number three is respiratory disease. And those three causes of death are 80% caused by cigarettes. 80%.
So, obesity is a monstrous thing, preventable death. I call it crude death, but crude death from drugs and alcohol. Every suicide is a drug and alcohol cause, every homicide is a drug and alcohol cause. I was in Florida with the drugs czar, Jim Carroll, the US drug czar, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. I was just in Florida with him this week on a big panel, and a gentleman asked him, “What percentage of people are in a prison for drugs?”
And he’s a phenomenal man. He really is. I think he’s the best drugs czar we’ve had in the last five drug czars, since Bill Bennett, he’s the best drug czar we’ve had since Bill Bennett. But, his response was 25% of prisoners and inmates in prison are there for drugs.
And so, it came around the table to me, and they asked me a question, and I addressed it, and I said, “The gentleman who asked what percentage of people who are in prison are there for drugs? The drugs czar said 25%, And that’s untrue. It’s 90%, and I’ll tell you the difference. what he’s talking about are people who are in jail and in prison for a drug charge. So, possession of drugs, high on drugs, and they got caught with drugs, dealing drugs, they’re there for drug, that’s 25%. That’s true. But 90% of people who are in prison in jail are there because of the drug problem. They committed a robbery to get money for drugs, they committed a shooting because they robbed the drug dealer. They crashed their car and killed three people because they were drunk. They went into a house, and robbed someone, and raped someone because they were high on drugs. They stabbed someone because they were in a meth delusion. 90% of everyone in prison, and jail are there because of addiction, because of drugs.”
That’s the reality. And we’re not addressing it. We’re not addressing 90% of our prison population’s drug problem, we’re not addressing it, right? We’re just locking them up. There’s three reasons why you lock people up. Number one, punishment, right? And that’s a given, we’re punishing people. That’s what’s happening. We’ve built this prison industrial complex to punish people.
Number two, as a deterrent to other people. And that’s no longer at all in play whatsoever, because no one thinks about, “Well, I could go to prison for this.” Because they’re on drugs, and they’re struggling with addiction. Deterrent is irrelevant. And then a deterrent to the person, to not do it again, right? going to jail is not a deterrent to most people.
Culturally, it’s become a way of life. Culturally, for people of color, it’s just become part of doing business. The drug dealer gets arrested, he goes to jail for a year, he gets out, goes back to drug dealing the day he gets out of prison, right? Was it a deterrent? No, we didn’t help him. And I’m not trying to be some bleeding heart liberal, I’m not a bleeding heart liberal. But it’s a folly if you think we’re keeping society safe by locking people up, and not changing them, and rehabilitating them, and giving them incentive to change their life.
We’ve got to change the prison system. And I’ll tell you, because I’ve been in jails and prisons in 17 different countries, filming, documentary filmmaking, since I got out of prison, we have the best prison system in the world. We’ve got the best criminal justice system in the world, and there’s massive problems with it, that we could fix, and make it better. So, we’ve got to make it better.
Not just for the men and women who are incarcerated, because think about something, 90% of percent of every woman in prison, and 80% of every man in prison, [inaudible 00:18:27] affected by that incarceration? The kids, right? So, we can lock these people up, we can throw away the key, and we can feel better about ourselves, but we’re not helping society, we’re not helping children, and we’re not helping that person stay out of prison.
The door revolves like this, we’ve got to stop the revolving door. So, we have to change the war on drugs, which wasn’t a war on drugs, we’ve got to change our prison system, and we’ve got to change the way we deal with addiction in our country. I love what you said, about stigma. Think about this, when you think about stigma, because stigma, we’re swinging the pendulum to the other side, and we can’t do that.
We have to address stigma, but people will tell you that stigma prevents addicts from going to get help. And I don’t know too many people that has put more people into treatment than me and my wife, 7,000 we stopped counting. I’ve never run into a person ever, who didn’t go get help because of stigma. Stigma doesn’t prevent people from getting help. Stigma might continue to support your irrational belief that you want to go escape your pain, okay? You’re not going to ask for help because you’re ashamed of yourself. That’s not stigma, okay? That’s shame.
We’ve got to deal with the shame by swinging the stigma pendulum so far the other way, we’re making it okay to be an addict. We’re making it okay to shoot drugs on the side of the street. We’re making it okay. We want to make addicts feel good about themselves. These guys are living on the street, in gutters. That’s not okay. We’ve got to stop allowing that to be okay.
We can’t say the stigma of addiction has to be addressed, and not address the stigma of being an addict. Okay, the stigma of living life that way. It’s not okay for girls to perform oral sex on the streets for $5 a pop, so they can go get their heroin to make them feel good about themselves. To me, that’s immoral, and we’re doing that girl a real disservice. And what we’re really doing is postponing her overdose. We’ve got to be realistic, and we’ve got to stop being politically correct about addiction.
The disease of addiction is real, it’s okay. I’m okay calling it a disease. But we cannot tell addicts it’s a disease without a cure. Okay? Because as long as we do that, as the addict in me, you told me there’s no cure for this thing, so okay, then I’m okay, just living in my disease of addiction. And then every time I relapse, and I’ve heard it 10,000 times, “Well, I have a disease.” No, that’s an excuse. We got to stop giving addicts excuses to continue to go use, because we’re doing them a disservice, and really, we’re endangering them, and we’re enabling them to kill themselves.
We would not let a suicidal person walk around with a gun, and just take the ammunition away from them. Because they’re going to go find the ammunition, and they’re going to put that gun to their head. Okay? We just can’t do it. We wouldn’t do it for suicide, suicidal ideation, and so we can’t do it for addiction, because it’s the same thing.
Alyssa Scolari [21:50]:
Yeah, I mean, I think that that’s an amazing point. And I guess, as I’m hearing you speak, one of the things that I’m thinking is, how did you get to this point? How did you go from the throes of addiction, to knowing what you know now? And one of the things you also touched on earlier is that we have to address the trauma that’s behind addiction, and as a trauma therapist, and as somebody who is a trauma survivor of sexual abuse, I agree wholeheartedly that that’s what we need to be treating, but how did you get there for yourself?
Michael DeLeon [22:28]:
70% of males in prison were sexually abused as a child, seven out of 10. And you can sit down, and interview 1,000 inmates, you’ll get maybe half of them to tell you the story. Half still will not address it. They won’t deal with it. I didn’t deal with it for a very long time. I didn’t deal with my sexual abuse until I was 45 years of age, and I was sexually abused by a pedophile priest out of the Newark Diocese in Northern New Jersey, in Sparta, New Jersey, affluent, beautiful Lake Mohawk, New Jersey, Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church, where the Monsignor coddled, and enabled those pedophile priests in that parish for years, and years, and years.
I was one of seven boys in my group that were molested, and sodomized by this pedophile priest, and I speak openly about it now. But, 10, 11, and 12 years of age, and I never uttered those words until I was 45 years of age. 70% of male inmates were sexually abused as a kid, and 90% of female inmates were sexually abused as a kid. And we’re not dealing with sexual trauma. Why? It boggles my mind. It absolutely boggles my mind.
Do you know how many retired therapists, like you, are retired sitting around, we could give them a supporting supplement stipend to their social security, or to their pensions, to go into prisons all across the country, we will cut our prison population by a quarter if we did that. Okay?
Alyssa Scolari [24:02]:
Oh, yeah. You’re damn right.
Michael DeLeon [24:04]:
It would cost us this much money. We would save the money tenfold by lowering our prison population.
Alyssa Scolari [24:10]:
Michael DeLeon [24:11]:
[crosstalk 00:24:11] But that’s not a popular thing for Republicans to do. That’s not a popular thing for Democrats to do. We’re not going to do it. I’m telling you, you want to cut our prison population, that’s what we do. So, I deal with my sexual abuse. I deal with my physical abuse. I was hung by two uncles, I was beat, my right eye socket was smashed by my uncle when I was 14 years of age. I never dealt with that physical abuse, and that trauma as a kid. All it did was toughen me up. “I’m not going to talk about it. I’m a man. If I talk about it, it makes me less of a man.”
I wanted [inaudible 00:24:48] at 17 years of age. My mother didn’t know about it. My adults in my life didn’t know about it. Three marriages, I went through before, I found the one I’m married to now, three marriages. This is my fourth marriage. And listen, I’m the worst husband in the world. The worst husband in the world. My wife is a saint. She doesn’t deserve the misery I give her as a husband.
Now, I’m almost okay. She says she’s almost done raising me, right? But, been married 28 years. So, how did I get to this point? I found my purpose. I believe the answer to addiction, to alcoholism, to suicidal ideation, to anxiety, to depression, is purpose. Purpose, purpose, purpose, it’s the most important thing in anyone’s life. And if you find passion for that purpose, now there is life.
Purpose is the reason that we journey, and passion is the fire that lights the way. And if you find your purpose, great. If you find passion for your purpose, you found the meaning of life right there, and you’ll never ever, ever seek a solution in a drug, or in alcohol. I tell people all the time, drugs are chemical, alcohol is a chemical, and there’s no such thing as a chemical solution to a spiritual problem.
You’ve got to deal with that spiritual problem. That’s what you have to deal with. How you do that? Music, yoga, meditation, laughter, comedy. I just had a friend of mine commit suicide last week. He was 27 years of age. Had been dealing with his depression, his anxiety for years. He just killed himself last week. He hung himself. His wife found him in his garage.
And me and him talked about Robin Williams. Ever since Robin Williams died, right? And Robin Williams was on 24 different psychological drugs, antidepressants, anti anxiety drugs, prescription stimulants. Robin Williams was on 24 prescription medications, off and on. I don’t know any person in the world more loved than that man, I mean outside of Jesus Christ, right?
Alyssa Scolari [24:11]:
Michael DeLeon [27:02]:
But if you think about it, I don’t care what actor, what singer, what comedian, I don’t know anybody. I never met anybody in my life that didn’t like Robin Williams. You know what I mean?
Alyssa Scolari [27:13]:
No, no, you’re right.
Michael DeLeon [27:15]:
You might not have liked Aladdin, you might not have liked Mrs. Doubtfire. You might have thought Mork and Mindy was a stupid show. Whatever. Right? But you loved that man.
Alyssa Scolari [27:22]:
Michael DeLeon [27:22]:
Robin Williams was the most loved, to me, my opinion, the most loved man on the planet. But he didn’t love himself. He didn’t love himself. He had such self loathing, and self hatred, right? Instead of dealing with that self loathing, and self hatred, they shoveled psychotropics down his throat, and he hung himself, right?
So my friend and I, Terrence is my friend’s name. We talked about him all the time. Chester Bennington, right? How do these kids die? How do these kids take their life? The lead singer of Linkin Park, one of the most beloved musicians on the planet, the lead singer of Soundgarden, Chris Cornell. Kurt Cobain. How do these people do this? You’re so loved. You’re so loved. How do you… Michael Jackson, Tom Petty, Amy Winehouse, and then we sit here for a week, and we’re like, “Oh, it’s such a tragedy. Let’s celebrate them. Let’s play their music for a week. Let’s take all their memorabilia and stick it on eBay for a jacked up price.”
We’re not learning our lesson. And I’m telling you, 2020 is the year we’re going to look back on, and see the problem jump fivefold. This problem is going to jump fivefold. This COVID thing is a joke, man. It’s a joke. I’m not saying it’s not real. I’m not saying coronavirus isn’t real, COVID-19’s not real. It’s real. It’s real. But what’s coming [crosstalk 00:28:51].
Alyssa Scolari [28:50]:
But the real problem…
Michael DeLeon [28:52]:
Is going to be the lateral damage, five to 10 fold. And no one’s even paying attention. So, I found my purpose, to get back to your question, I found my purpose, and I found passion for my purpose. And that’s what I try to share, and show to people, is I have passion for this.
Alyssa Scolari [29:11]:
Oh, yeah, I can feel it.
Michael DeLeon [29:11]:
My wife says, “You never want to invite Michael to your Christmas party ever.” Don’t invite me over, because I’ll bring the whole mood of the party down. I’ll be talking about drugs, and addiction, and suicide, and overdose, and after five minutes talking to me you’re like, “Oh my god, man, that guy. I don’t even want to talk to him anymore.”
Alyssa Scolari [29:30]:
Yeah, but you’re talking about the shit that needs to be talked about. This is the stuff that nobody wants to talk about, and I just… I mean, you’re so right. And I know I was saying this to you before we started recording, but the clients that I’m seeing right now, and the patients that I have, their use of substances went from, over the last six months, went from, “I could hit the dab pen every once in a while.” To, “Oh my God, I can’t stop.”
Michael DeLeon [30:02]:
Alyssa Scolari [30:02]:
You know, I had a 14-year-old sitting in my office yesterday, going, “I can’t stop.” She’s flunking out of school. She’s sleeping until three in the afternoon, and she’s like, “I don’t know how I got here.” And that is the ripple effect of this frigging pandemic.
Michael DeLeon [30:21]:
Alyssa Scolari [30:21]:
And right, we’re not even paying attention to it.
Michael DeLeon [30:24]:
Right, you’re right. CDC just released a report, right? And they have found 13% of respondents, okay, so anytime CDC puts out a report, you can always double it. Always double it. Whenever the CDC says self reporting, automatically double it.
Alyssa Scolari [30:24]:
Michael DeLeon [30:44]:
But let me just give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they’re right. They just said 13% of Americans either started, or increased their substance abuse, to cope with pandemic related stress, emotions, and isolation. Do you know what 13% of America is? That’s 43 million people. 43 million people have increased, or started getting high, to deal with COVID. Hello? No one’s talking about it.
Alyssa Scolari [30:44]:
Michael DeLeon [31:20]:
We want to talk about Biden’s… It’s nuts. It’s nuts. When I watch CNN, or MSNBC, or Fox News, I want to kill myself [inaudible 00:31:30] no. I want to take a bath afterwards. But anyway, you look on the side of the screen, right? The side of the screen, how many COVID deaths we had, how many COVID cases do we have? If on the left side of the screen, we put suicides and overdoses, I wonder if people would wake up? Right? I wonder if people would wake up?
Alyssa Scolari [31:20]:
Michael DeLeon [31:20]:
I don’t know.
Alyssa Scolari [31:20]:
Michael DeLeon [31:54]:
I don’t know if they’d wake up or not. I want to believe they would, but I don’t know.
Alyssa Scolari [31:59]:
But it just seems like there’s intentionally such a blind eye turned to it. And I guess one of the questions I have for you is, how do you talk to the people, because now, as you’ve said, at least 43 million, 13%, that’s only what’s reported, and you always double it, because what about all the all the numbers out there that aren’t being reported?
So, all right, we’ll just say on on best case scenario, 43 million people have an increase in substance use, substance abuse since the onset of the pandemic. I know I’ve personally seen an increase in about 90% of the people in my practice. What do you say to people? And I know this is part of what you do through Steered Straight, is you go to schools, and you speak. What do you say to the kids? And I’m finding it’s not just the kids right now, but it’s also the adults who sit there and go, “But it’s just vaping. None of this stuff is harming me. Look, it’s the flavor of Long Island Iced Tea. It tastes really good.” What do you say to that?
Michael DeLeon [33:11]:
Well, I mean, if I’m in a school, and I’m doing a 90 minute session, I have an hour and a half to share my story, but to talk about vaping, because my first drug was nicotine, cigarettes. First drug I… And it’s the number one killer in the world. Cigarettes is the number one killer in the world, right? Cigarettes aren’t addictive. Nicotine is addictive. Nicotine is in cigarettes, that’s what makes cigarettes addictive. Nicotine [inaudible 00:33:37].
My first drug was nicotine. 90% of every addict in this world used nicotine before the age of 18. And I can tell you 90% of every relapse in America is a smoker, or a vaper. 90%. 90%. So, some kid the other day said, “Well, I bet you 90% of every relapse drinks milk, too.” And I said, “Oh, okay, yeah, that dairy to drug gateway. That’s really…” Sometimes people will just argue, and confirmation bias is a real sickness, where no information and evidence presented will change your irrational belief, right?
Alyssa Scolari [34:19]:
Michael DeLeon [34:19]:
So, nicotine is the most addictive drug on earth, and the chemicals in these vaping, and these Long Island Iced Tea flavors, changes structure when it enters your body, and these kids, they have no idea what they’re doing to their developing respiratory system. Respiratory disease is the third biggest killer in America. Okay? Over 300,000 Americans die from respiratory disease every single year. That’s the number six killer for kids 15 to 24.
So how do these kids get COPD, chronic lower respiratory disease? How are 24-year-old kids dying from emphysema, and they never smoked? I can tell you, it’s vaping. We’re going to see the truth about vaping. It’s going to take seven to 10 years for all the data to really come out. But, vaping is going to kill this entire generation. I believe respiratory disease will become the number one cause of death in America, because our 10 to 24-year-old kids are ingesting nicotine, and THC, number one way to get high on marijuana is vaping. THC.
Alyssa Scolari [34:19]:
Michael DeLeon [35:18]:
Yep. So, a lot of these kids say, “Oh, no, I don’t vape for THC.”
Alyssa Scolari [35:20]:
Because it’s so heavily concentrated.
Michael DeLeon [35:22]:
Alyssa Scolari [35:23]:
Michael DeLeon [35:25]:
The kids say, “Oh, no, I’m not vaping THC. I’m just vaping nicotine.” I’m like, “Yeah, really? Where are you getting your pods?” “Oh, I order them online.” “Oh, okay, okay. I’m sure there’s no THC in there.” They have no idea.
So, if I’m in a school, I have a longer session. If I’m with parents, I have a longer session. If schools or parents, or groups of therapists, or counselors want a lesson, I have a one hour video that I’ve done, I can send it to anybody. We have information on our website. I helped the Partnership for Drug Free New Jersey write a 16 page vaping guide. It’s on my website called The No Vape Zone. So, I try to give people information. But information is just information. What do you do with that information? If you don’t take it to heart, then it’s not going to help you. And if you don’t believe it, and have an open mind, it’s not going to help you either.
Alyssa Scolari [36:20]:
Right. And honestly, one of the biggest battles that I struggle with, with kids, is that they have this idea that they are invincible, and infallible, so they have this, “Well, that’s not going to be me. All I do is vape. All it is is THC and nicotine. I’m not going to get there. It’s not a gateway drug.”
Michael DeLeon [36:40]:
Yeah. Listen, there’s so many studies to show you what THC does to the male anatomy over time. So, I say to kids, hey, it might not develop a erectile dysfunction in your 20s and 30s, but when you meet that girl, and you fall in love, she wants to get married, and you get married, and you want to start a family, and it’s just not working out. And you and boo go off to the infertility clinic, right? And the doctor sends you for a little test.
Let me tell you about that test. First of all, it’s pretty interesting how you take that test, because modern science has never found a different way to develop this test, to find out if you’re sterile or not, right? So you go in your little room with your VCR, and your VHS tapes, and then you come out with your little sample.
Well, the doctor is going to send that little sample off to the lab, and then you and your new wife are going to sit there at his desk, and he’s going to explain the bad news to you, and you’re going to look over at your wife, and what is she going to say? Now she realizes the man she fell in love with, the man she married can’t have children, because you’re sterile at 27, because you vaped THC all through your teen years thinking it’s got to be no big deal. Hey, nobody told you what was going to happen to your sperm over time.
THC is a toxin on the male anatomy, and the female anatomy too. But, I always try to get a little bit further with males. I don’t know if you want to be chewing Levitra and Cialis in your 30s, but it’s a possibility, so why take the chance? Why take the chance?
Alyssa Scolari [38:11]:
Michael DeLeon [38:11]:
It’s really, really, really a problem, and it’s not smoking… The thing about it is, my generation has convinced these kids that marijuana is no big deal. “I smoked when I was a kid. I was at Woodstock for crying out loud.” Okay, I grew up with Cheech and Chong.
Alyssa Scolari [38:11]:
Oh my God, but it’s so different.
Michael DeLeon [38:24]:
It’s not the same stuff. You know that.
Alyssa Scolari [38:28]:
It’s not the same. Yeah, it’s so much more heavily concentrated. It is absolutely not the same. And there’s so much other shit in there. It’s just… Yeah, it’s not the same. It is not the same.
Michael DeLeon [38:41]:
I was watching the news the other day. A lot of Americans know what’s going on with Monsanto, right? And Roundup. Roundup, caused non Hodgkins lymphoma, right? Roundup is a toxin, is a poison, there’s chemicals in Roundup that has absolutely killed people, right? There’s all these lawsuits going on. There’s commercials on TV, “If you got non Hodgkins lymphoma, or a loved one got non Hodgkins lymphoma from Roundup, call this number, because he might be entitled to financial compensation.”
So, I’m watching the news the other day, and I saw that commercial. The very next commercial is a Roundup commercial, talking about how you can buy Roundup and use it in your garden. And I’m like, “Wait a minute, one commercial is telling you how to call this number if you ever used it, and the next commercial on the same network on the same TV show is promoting the product.” I’m thinking, “Wow, America is really dumb, man. Americans are really dumb.”
I don’t get it. The media is lying to us. Monsanto is lying to us. It’s crazy. “We just hope that you don’t get non Hodgkins lymphoma, and sue us.” Look at the opioid lawsuits, look at Zantac lawsuits, look at the hair color for men. They found that [inaudible 00:39:58] poison in it. And so, if you used the… I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s a hair color for men, and they found that it’s a poison.
And then they came in and said, “Oh, no, no, no, it’s not, it’s okay. It’s just a black hair color. The blonde, and the brown hair color is okay.” What? I didn’t read that in the report. It said all of your products contain this stuff. And I go to the Walmart, and I look at the back of the box, and that chemical is in the brown, and in the blonde, and they’re still selling the black. It’s crazy. Crazy.
Alyssa Scolari [40:31]:
Michael DeLeon [40:32]:
Drugs and alcohol is a huge problem, suicide is a huge problem. But it’s just the symptom of the problem. It’s not the problem itself. We’ve got to get to this trauma, we’ve got to get to these underlying issues, and we’ve got to help people deal with this in a healthy, positive, and holistic way.
Alyssa Scolari [40:53]:
You said it, you said it. I can’t… I mean, that is the whole goal of this podcast. That is the one thing that I have learned about my life. I, thank God, have never picked up a cigarette. But, my addiction was in food, and it’s not until I addressed that trauma beneath that I was able to really be in recovery.
Michael DeLeon [41:18]:
Right. Because there’s process addictions, there’s sex addictions, there’s things that we fall into.
Alyssa Scolari [41:25]:
Michael DeLeon [41:26]:
Tony Robbins, Anthony Robbins, everybody’s familiar with Tony Robbins. He’s a motivational speaker. He’s an incredible person. He had a TV show about seven years ago, where he was helping people deal with their addictions, and the addiction community, the therapists, and a psychotherapist, and the treatment centers really attacked him because he was saying addiction is not a disease. That’s ridiculous. Addiction is not a disease, right?
He got attacked. But anyway, he was so nauseated by the attacks, and the backlash, and he said, “Forget this, I don’t need to do this crap. I’m going to just keep making my millions of dollars doing what I’m doing.” He could have revolutionized addiction, but people who were making the money on the addiction, treating the addiction, they didn’t want any part of that.
“Oh, we can’t tell people addiction is not a disease, that there’s choices involved. We’ve got to tell them it’s something that they can’t help.” That’s absolute bull crap. Right? But anyway, he said something that really, really changed my life. It was about seven years ago. So, yeah, it was right after 2010. I was filming my first film, my first documentary on addiction.
I was interviewing all these kids, and I was watching his interview on Larry King, and he had one of his success stories there on the show with him. And Tony Robbins said, “If you want to deal with an addiction, okay, the only way you deal with an addiction is if you replace it with another addiction. If you take drugs out of the person’s life, if you don’t replace the drugs with something else, you have a void there, that the person, the addict doesn’t know how to fill.”
I don’t want to fill it with another negative thing. You don’t take heroin away and replace it with weed. You don’t take heroin away, and replace it with Suboxone and methadone. What’s that void? Okay, spiritual principles, music, healthy relationships, meetings, walking, exercise. We’ve got to deal with the remnants of the drugs because no matter what, there’s remnants of those drugs in our fat cells, in our bodies, that we’re going to deal with.
I just lost a kid about three weeks ago, this kid, he just had a one year anniversary. He was clean one year. But he went back into the gym, you should have seen this kid. He was a monster, shoulders bigger than my head. He went back into the gym, back into working out, he replaced his drug addiction with working out.
But there was so many… He told me all the time, he would have these cravings that were so powerful. He didn’t know what to do. He called me a couple of times, over the last few months, in the middle of the night telling me he had such incredible cravings, and I tried to tell, him every single time he had these incredible cravings was when he left the gym, and I said, “That’s because your fat cells are releasing these remnants of drugs that are embedded in your fat cells. You’re working out, you’re sweating, you’re ripping your muscles, your muscles, your fat cells, you’re dropping weight. The little soluble particles, and molecules of drugs, of amphetamines, of heroin are in your body still, you detox in five days, you don’t detox your body. There’s ways you have to detox your body. It takes years sometimes.”
Alyssa Scolari [41:26]:
Michael DeLeon [44:46]:
“You’re having these cravings because literally drugs are in your body, and you feel these cravings.” I said, “You only feel them when you’re leaving the gym.” He says, and ironically, “Yeah, man. That’s when they’re strongest.” “That’s right. That’s what you have to do. You have to replace things. You’ve got to go…” I told him that all these things to go on, holistic things, turmeric, ginger, zinc. All these amino acids, right? “You’ve got to get this stuff into your body. Sodium, you’ve got to put sodium in your body.”
And so anyway, he just gave in to a craving, and went and got heroin, one bag of heroin, he went, he’s going to take the edge off, he sniffed one bag of heroin, it was straight fentanyl, and he died like three weeks ago. We’ve got to address these underlying issues. We’ve got to address these underlying issues. And like I said earlier, there’s no such thing as a chemical solution to a spiritual problem.
We can only handle spiritual problems, with spiritual solutions. And I’m not talking about religion, and I’m talking about church, or the Bible. Those are all great things, but they’re a part of a new life. And I tell people all the time, “Do I feel like getting high? Sometimes. Do I feel like just quitting, and getting…” A couple of days ago, I did not want to get out of bed. My alarm went off. It wasn’t being tired. I had two overdoses, and a suicide that night, that evening, before I went to bed, and I got up just as nauseous as I went to sleep.
I didn’t want to get out of bed. I wanted to hit snooze. I wanted to put the covers over my head. I wanted to say, “You know what? Forget it. I’m just going to stay in bed all day.” Okay, what’s that going to accomplish? What’s that going to accomplish? It’s going to give me the same misery that drugs gave me, because at the end of the day, I stayed in bed all day, I accomplished nothing. All the problems that were going to develop during the day are still going to be there. I still have to deal with them.
So, I got my lazy pitiful butt out of bed. I ended my feeling sorry for myself. I went, and brushed my teeth, got in the shower, and out of shower, got dressed, and off I went. So, I did hit snooze for five minutes, so I had a pity party for five minutes. It’s okay. Treat your problems in life like your snooze, give it five minutes. Go make up rest, go for a walk.
Alyssa Scolari [47:04]:
Michael DeLeon [47:05]:
Make a phone call. Call somebody you haven’t talked to. I had something happen a couple of days ago. I was driving. I was just, I was so upset, I called my father. My father was like, “Oh, I’m so glad you called. I wanted to talk to you about something.” So not only did I handle my little five minutes of stress, I called my father at a moment he wanted to talk to me about something. So, I helped him, which now I’m helped two times. You know what I mean?
Alyssa Scolari [47:05]:
Michael DeLeon [47:32]:
I dealt with my anxiety, and I feel good about helping the most important man in my world, my father. So many of us are inundated with all this Fakebook stuff. That’s what I call Facebook, Fakebook, right? And Twitter, and Instagram, and we sit there for… I know a girl, sits there for hours watching TikTok videos. Like, “Okay, I’ve got 4,000 Fakebook friends.” No, you don’t. Okay? You’ve four fake people a social media platform that couldn’t give a rat’s ass about you if they were in the same room with you.
Develop your core group of people. Maybe it’s three people. Maybe it’s 10 people. Find someone… I saw a girl on Facebook the other day, she was talking about how miserable she was, and how no one appreciates her. So, I just messaged her, “I feel like you do sometimes. And you know what? I’m adding you to my prayer list.” Which I did, “I’m thinking about you and sending positive vibes your way. And all that out to you right now might mean nothing, but I care about you. You have a purpose in your life. You’re noticed, I noticed, and guess what? Someone does care about you. It’s me. And if you’ve ever liked to write about it, I’d love you to help me with my website, because I got these blogs, and I’m looking for people to write positive things, so other people can share them.”
So, she did, she shared a thing, we put it on the… She messaged me back. “I feel so much better about writing that, thank you so much.” And she’s on a list that I have, which is about 160 people long, she’s on a list that I’m going to text as much as I can, every couple of weeks, or every other week, I’m going to text, “Hey, how you doing?”
Sometimes I sit, when I’m waiting on a plane, right? And I encourage people to do this. I’m nobody special. Trust me when I tell you, I didn’t even come up with this. A good, smart woman, because women are smarter than men, a good smart woman told me to do this. I go down, I don’t ever erase my Facebook messages. Look, there’s like 60,000 of them. Right? So, I just go down.
Alyssa Scolari [49:42]:
Michael DeLeon [49:42]:
I go like this, and I find a Facebook message from, here’s one, July 26th. I haven’t messaged that lady since July 26thq. So, I go back and see what we were talking about, and then I go like this, “Thinking about you today. Hope you’re doing well.” Do you know what that might do that person?
Listen, this is how the Holy Spirit works, I might do that at a moment that that person is sitting in their car crying over something that’s going on in their life, and that simple text, I was going to call it a stupid text, it’s not, that simple text might be the difference of that person driving into a brick wall, or just feeling a little bit more hopeless.
It’s not me, I’m nothing special. Look at this face. I’m nothing special. But I’m going to care about that person for a second. I’m waiting on a plane, and instead of watching a stupid TikTok video, or a YouTube video, instead of doing something meaningless, I’m going to do something meaningful. Do you know that’s how I get through my days? By reaching out to people who aren’t thinking about me, with a simple, two second, three second text, “Thinking about you. Hope you’re doing well.”
Alyssa Scolari [50:58]:
Michael DeLeon [50:58]:
That’s it. So anyway, that’s how I get through my day.
Alyssa Scolari [51:03]:
I have to say, as you’re saying that, it’s making me recall, I think, quite a few moments where, I know people in my life who adopt that same motto as you, which is like, “You know what, just reach out. All you need to do is say, “Thinking of you.”
There have been many times when I’ve definitely battled suicidal ideations, and suicidal thoughts, pretty much my whole life, and there have been many times when I’ve been sitting in my car, sobbing, thinking about just ending my life, and then I get that message that comes through. I have a friend, Liz, if you’re listening, hey, Liz, but my friend Liz will always text me at the time when I need it. When I’m sitting in my car going, “I’m going to end my life.” I get that text, and she’s like, “Hi, honey, praying for you. Thinking of you.” And I’m like, “Aww.”
Michael DeLeon [52:03]:
Alyssa Scolari [52:04]:
It is, it’s incredible, what one simple text can do, instead of what a TikTok video.
Michael DeLeon [52:12]:
Listen, I don’t know Alyssa Scolari, but now I do. You’re a new friend in my life, and we’re going to keep connecting, and one day I’m going to help you do something, one day you’re going to help me do something. You have a purpose in your life. You have a purpose, and you obviously have passion for your purpose, okay? You were created with value and purpose.
Alyssa Scolari [52:12]:
Michael DeLeon [52:33]:
Okay? You’re a woman. So you’re much better off, because you’re a girl, because you’re smarter than guys, and you have a purpose in your life. People need you, okay? So you’re not going to end your life. You’re not going to end your life ever. You have too much to live for, and people need you in their life. And so, you’re going to keep going, and we’re going to help people, and we’re going to get through this, and we’ve got to change. I wish we could all… If everyone in America would just turn off Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, just turn them off. Don’t ever watch them again.
Alyssa Scolari [53:03]:
Michael DeLeon [53:04]:
You’ve got to watch the local news, to see what’s going on in your community, but if you can DVR it, and then and then fast forward through the garbage, right? Watch the weather, and whatever.
Alyssa Scolari [53:04]:
Yeah, bypass the crap. Yeah.
Michael DeLeon [53:16]:
I just wish we would all realize there’s no… We are not a racist, systemically racist country. Okay? If we were such a bad country, we wouldn’t that people risking their lives to come here. We’re the greatest country in the world. We need to be better. We need to be better.
But I’m not going to try to solve all those problems. All I’m trying to solve is addiction, and suicide. It’s weaved together. That’s all I’m trying to solve, addiction, and suicide. I’ve got to solve it with prevention. That’s what I’m trying to do. So, SteeredStraight.org is our website. There’s a great seven page guide on anxiety, and stress on there that we wrote.
Alyssa Scolari [53:54]:
Michael DeLeon [53:54]:
It’s incredible. It’s how to develop your own personal stress management program. It’s a 10 step guide, with four sections. It’s incredible, seven pages, it’s free. I have a great guide on vaping. I have a book for parents, I have a success curriculum for kids. All I’m trying to do is help. So, please go to SteeredStraight.org, and share it with your friends.
Alyssa Scolari [54:17]:
That’s perfect. And for everyone listening out there, I will link that on the Facebook page, and it will be in the newsletter, and the show notes, so you will have access to it, so you can go check all those good things out. So, I thank you so so much for coming on.
Michael DeLeon [54:17]:
All right. Absolutely.
Alyssa Scolari [54:33]:
And for your passion.
Michael DeLeon [54:34]:
Bye, Alyssa Scolari. Get out of Jersey, man. Get out of that godforsaken state of New Jersey.
Alyssa Scolari [54:39]:
Yeah, I know.
Michael DeLeon [54:41]:
Move to Tennessee.
Alyssa Scolari [54:46]:
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. For more information on today’s discussion, and to sign up for the Light After Trauma newsletter, head over to my website, at AlyssaScolari.com. Also be sure sure to check out my Instagram for additional tips and resources, at Alyssa_Scolari_LPC. Thanks again for listening, and take good care.