Steered Straight Inc. Shares a Powerful Message about Addiction

Gianna Milano, Staff Writer

The founder of Steered Straight Inc., Michael DeLeon, presented on the dangers of vaping to spread the message to the students here at Norwich Free Academy that addictions can be fatal, especially for teenagers.  

Steered Straight Inc. is a non-profit organization founded by DeLeon in 2012 that has sent various presenters to over 200 schools across the country to spread awareness.

“I just have a purpose, but I do not want to have an agenda,” DeLeon said. “I do not want kids to think that I am coming in here because I am being paid to speak about something. I want to deliver the truth, and I really believe it is the purpose of my life, which is why I personally do not get paid to speak. It is just a passion.”

When DeLeon entered middle school, he involved himself in gang activities to fit in with the crowd.  His poor decisions resulted in him being incarcerated for a total of 12 years. He ignored all of the help he was offered, and he does not want anyone else to make the same mistakes he made.

“Gangs controlled the drug market in America, and when I was buying drugs, I was interacting with gang members,” DeLeon shared. “They looked at me as an asset to them because of how I looked and the color of my skin, and I did not fit a profile. And I looked at them as an asset to me because this was where I was getting my drugs, so I did not even contemplate the consequences of my actions…and I became a gang member. It was the dumbest decision of my life.”

His subsequent addiction initiated a chain of unfortunate events that included near death in a car accident and his wife’s life being threatened by a drug dealer whom he had not paid.  He has also had cancer twice.

“I understood and believed that my addiction was taking over me, but I did not do anything about it because I was addicted,” DeLeon continued. “My brain was controlled while I was using the drugs, and I was not thinking in a rational state of mind… I needed to be rescued.”

“The reason I got off drugs was because I went to prison,” DeLeon explained. “Now, the reason why I continue to stay off of drugs was because I was determined and I was thinking with a clear mind. So, at the time, I guess I did not care. Obviously, I did not care because I would have asked for help, but so many people that are caught in the grips of addiction do not ask for help because they do not want to stop and they do not think that they can stop, and I was that way.”

DeLeon is concerned that high school students do not understand that vaping is as harmful as any other drug addiction.

Approximately  37% of the teenagers DeLeon has interviewed over time had no idea that nicotine is in a vape pod, and another 25% considered “juuling” and “vaping” different types of smoking, despite them being the same thing. A vape pod is equal to approximately four packs of cigarettes, so it is much easier for teenagers who vape to get addicted.  This addiction can lead to other harmful addictions.

“Nicotine addictions and vaping addictions are real. They are very, very prevalent and a lot of people are not talking about it,” DeLeon states.

To help parents understand how they can help save their children from addictions, DeLeon has visited 48 states spreading his message about avoiding gateways to addiction.  

“On our website, we have a whole page full of advice,” DeLeon states. “We have real guides as well as books that tell parents what they could do if their kid is addicted.”

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