By Amanda ChinTue, January 23rd 2024
ASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — It’s called the silent epidemic.
More than 110,000 people in the U.S. died of a drug overdose in 2022, according to the CDC, where 70 percent of those deaths involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
In Davidson County alone, there have been 21 suspected drug overdose deaths from 2022 through 2023 for those 17 and under.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our country has ever encountered, but advocates and families are trying to tackle the problem after tragedy hit close to home.
Eighteen-year-old Victoria Siegel had it all, including a good family and friends. But eight years ago, Victoria died of a drug overdose.
Victoria’s parents, Jackie and David, have made it their life’s mission to turn this tragedy into saving lives.
That’s why they started Victoria’s Voice Foundation, a way of providing drug prevention through educational and awareness programs.
The foundation hit a milestone in Nashville, reaching one million children and parents across the nation.
Victoria’s Voice partners with Michael DeLeon, the founder of Steered Straight.
Deleon travels to elementary, middle and high schools all around the country, hoping to reach these kids before the drug and alcohol problems even start.
Deleon has his own story to share.
DeLeon says nicotine, marijuana and then alcohol took him on a journey of addiction starting at just 11 years old, and ended up going to prison for twelve years.
“I want them leaving understanding that it can happen to them, so I take them all the way back to where it started,” said DeLeon. “As I carry kids on a journey, they’re so drawn in, now I hit them with the education and they listen and then I have the continuing education for the kids, for the family, for the community, for the school.”
DeLeon not only uses his own story, but also real-life tragedies of the dangers of vaping and synthetic opioids like fentanyl, to reach these students.
Because of DeLeon’s unique strategy, he’s helped families get into treatment, even had children turn in vapes and drugs after his speech, and saved lives.
DeLeon wants these students to know every choice they make affects them and doesn’t want his past to be their future.
In 2022, the DEA seized more than 58 million pills containing fentanyl and more than 13,000 pounds of fentanyl powder. That equates to more than 380 million potentially deadly doses of fentanyl that never reached our communities.