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Garfield Event Warns Parents About Gangs, Drugs

Michael DeLeon speaks to the crowd about gangs and drug abuse Tuesday, Dec. 1 at Garfield Middle School.
Michael DeLeon speaks to the crowd about gangs and drug abuse Tuesday, Dec. 1 at Garfield Middle School. Photo Credit: Joshua Jongsma

GARFIELD, N.J. — Garfield school officials brought in an expert on gangs and drugs Tuesday night not to scare people straight but to steer them in the right direction.

"A lot of people in Garfield might say gangs exist, but what does that mean?" Michael DeLeon of Steered Straight Inc. told Daily Voice.

"New Jersey and every other state in America is in the middle of a prescription drug and heroin epidemic, and that's what's driving suburban gang migration," he said.

DeLeon, who has has traveled across New Jersey over the past 15 years speaking about the dangers of drugs and gangs, told nearly three dozen people gathered at the middle school that blame can be easily passed -- but parents cannot deny that it could happen to their child.

Rich Rigoglioso, co-vice principal of the middle school, said a similar presentation was held for students. But there have been problems with youngsters who "don't follow authority," so it seemed helpful to educate parents.

"We want the parents to come out and hear signs they should look for, that are guidance for their children as well," said co-vice principal Kathy DeRisi.

Some warning signs of drug abuse include disorientation, sudden change in behavior, weight loss and "droopy" appearance," DeLeon said. He suggested parents stay in constant communication with their children about the dangers of drugs.

Garfield Deputy Mayor Glenn Mati, who worked in a police department for 34 years before retiring, said he's always been interested in helping.

"I think it's important for all of us to see what someone has to offer," Mati said of Tuesday's presentation. "You always learn something, even after all my years of experience."

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