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November 2020

In today’s addiction and suicide pandemic, the pandemic within the pandemic, we are experiencing a worsening of what was already the worst public social health crisis America has ever seen. The threat to our youth is greater than ever before and the chasm between what Parents and Guardians needed to know in the past and the current trends necessary to understand now, the importance of parental education and awareness can’t be overestimated. It is vital! The threats to youth years ago have changed, and the terminology you thought you understood needs new understanding. What are the conversations you need to have? Where does connection fit in with this digital world? How do you protect your family against risky behaviors, addiction or suicide? Where do we go from here?

My name is Michael DeLeon, CEO and Founder of Steered Straight. I am the #1 booked drug prevention lecturer in U.S. schools. I am a recovered addict, former gang member, ex-offender and a national leader in prevention and recovery, addiction advocacy and criminal justice reform.

As we rise out of the Corona Virus and recover from the subsequent approaches we took as a nation to fight it, and as we move past this political season that intertwined it, there is much uncertainty ahead. Regardless of which slant of media you watch or no matter what the medium on which you get your news and information, there is very little attention directed at America’s Health Crisis of Despair Death. It is truly the pandemic within the pandemic, but it is the one very few people are discussing. That is, until it affects them.

There are three classes of behavior-related medical conditions that increase in groups of people who experience despair due to a sense that their long-term social and economic outlook is bleak. The three disease types are drug overdose (including alcohol overdose), suicide, and alcoholic liver disease.

According to the CDC, the AMA and more than 40 State Health Departments, overdose death rates are escalating as high as 35% in many states. Overdose deaths were increasing even before COVID at a very high rate. In 2017, the opioid pandemic seemed to be reaching a plateau due in part to stricter regulations of prescription pain medication and President Trump briefly getting China President Chi’s assistance reducing the illegal importation of Fentanyl into the U.S. in 2018, fentanyl was escalating faster than ever through other illicit channels and synthetic opioids dramatically increased and overdose death rates increased again. Overdoses – both fatal and non-fatal – have increased 20% compared with the same time period in 2019 according to the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program.

According to the National Suicide Helpline, calls to suicide help lines have skyrocketed. Suicide has been increasing even before COVID. In 2018, the U.S had the highest age-adjusted suicide rates since 1941. By June of 2020, a CDC survey of 5,470 US adults found that one-third reported anxiety or depression symptoms. About 10% said they had considered suicide during the last month, and the rate of suicidal thoughts was highest among unpaid caregivers, essential workers, Hispanic or Black respondents and young adults.

Reports of domestic violence are also rising, and many experts are worried the cases reported are but a small fraction of those happening. As someone who has worked directly with domestic violence cases for more than 15 years, I can emphatically tell you that is definitely the case. There has been a substantial increase in calls to domestic violence hotlines across the country. Calls to these hotlines have increased by 76% by August of this year. They remain elevated at this time. This is a direct contributing factor to increased trauma for children. Many of these children unfortunately turn to self-harm, substance use and abuse and suicide to escape. The escalating drug use, the increasing rates of suicide, suicide attempts and domestic violence are all contributing to increase in death. They are also pouring into a foundation of despair for our children, and children have a more serious level of disconnection than they ever have.

Parents ask me all the time what they can do to prevent their child from growing up to struggle with addiction. How can it be prevented? When should they start talking to their kids about drugs? If I could bottle the solutions to those questions, I would be a very wealthy man. It’s just not that simple – but there absolutely are solutions in prevention, and they must start at home. They also must start incredibly young. We want to educate every child and every parent/guardian about preventing addiction and preventing suicide, but the education must be foundational and address what fuels the experimentation and substance use in the first place. Drugs are very rarely the problem – they are almost always the symptom of the problem.

At the foundation of prevention, and at the very core of everything I present to youth and young adults across America are two foundational concepts – Risk Factors and Protective Factors. They are absolutely key to lowering the risk of risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol use as an adolescent. Risk factors are characteristics at the biological, psychological, family, community, or cultural level that precede and are associated with a higher likelihood of negative outcomes. Protective factors are characteristics associated with a lower likelihood of negative outcomes or that reduce a risk factor’s impact. As a parent or guardian, you must work to reduce the Risk Factors and enhance the Protective Factors of kids.

At Steered Straight, we partnered with a true visionary, Mr. Stuart Johnson and the incredible SUCCESS Foundation out of Plano, Texas, to provide Teens and Families across America with a blueprint for Success. We deliver this blueprint to students and families in 50 states and literally hundreds of thousands of Teens have benefitted from these principles. They enhance the protective factors that every successful young adult must possess. They reduce the risk factors and they enhance protective factors. Every Family should implement these principles into raising their kids. There are 8 Chapters.

Success for Teens:

  • Little Things Matter
  • Attitude is Everything
  • Use the Moment
  • Everything Starts as Small Steps
  • There’s No Such Thing as Failure
  • Habits are Powerful
  • You’re Always Learning
  • Make Your Dreams Come True

One of the very things I love MOST about the “Success For Teens” curriculum is that it shows teens how to apply the “SLIGHT EDGE PRINCIPLES”. It’s an actual philosophy that I teach in every program that we present across the country. The slight edge philosophy comes down to this: You can create any life you want, no matter how difficult it may seem, but only by understanding how small, positive steps make a difference over time. The things you do every single day – things that don’t look like such a big deal or like they don’t even matter – do matter! This philosophy is critically important right now as children’s lives have been completely upended because of this virus and shutting down our country because of it. They don’t comprehend it the way adults do, and virtually NOTHING in the media is addressing it – neither for kids nor for parents and guardians tasked with trying to navigate their kids through this ordeal. 

Please visit our website www.steeredstraight.org/resources and download your FREE 8-chapter curriculum for you and your Teen called, “Success for Teens”. Please share it with loved ones and friends. There has never been a more important time where enhancing protective factors and building a foundation for Success mattered more. There has never been a more uncertain environment with more risk factors present in the lives of children. I don’t believe society at large is even paying attention – so you MUST!

We published the first of its kind book, “Table Talks and Dashboard Conversations” giving Parents a year of conversations that they can have with their middle and high school students on a daily basis. There are more than 365 conversations to choose from. And we published it into an easy-to-use, journaling guide, with 12 months of themes and conversations for every day of the year.

You can get our Full Parent/Guardian Guide on our website as well:

Table Talks and Dashboard Conversations is only $19.99 and is available at www.steeredstraight.org or you can order direct from Amazon.

You can also pick up your copy at our local Murfreesboro Steered Straight Thrift Store at 845-C Middle Tennessee Blvd., Murfreesboro, Tennessee 37129