Purpose of Red Ribbon Week lost amid inconsequential spirit days

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After the murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena in 1985 by a gang of drug traffickers, the violence and tragedy caused by drugs was brought into the media spotlight.

Family and friends of Camarena began wearing red satin ribbons in his remembrance and soon, the red ribbon became a national symbol of the fight against illegal drugs.

Three years later, the Red Ribbon Organization and the concept of ‘Red Ribbon Week’—a week held Oct. 24-31 in American public schools dedicated to drug awareness and prevention—was created.

More than 30 years later, the Red Ribbon program is still in place.

Yet, drug education is failing.

Instead of stressing the gravity of the program’s tragic message, many schools have turned to dress-up spirit days to get kids to get more involved. This cruelly trivializes the serious intentions of the program.

Tragically, as the years have passed, Red Ribbon Week has become less and less about drug prevention and more about pointless spirit days.

Even at Westview, the only acknowledgement is a few red ribbons tied to the palm trees and some Red Vines for the few who remember to wear red.

This erasure of the week’s significance is unacceptable.

If anything, drug education and prevention is more needed today than it was at the inception of Red Ribbon Week; kids aren’t aware of how prevalent addiction is, how devastating it can be, how many have died because of drug and alcohol use. They’re not aware, so they’re not scared to start using.

Kids as young as middle school are beginning to use drugs and alcohol at a higher rate. According to DoSomething.org, by the 8th grade, 28 percent of adolescents have consumed alcohol, 15 percent have smoked cigarettes, and 16.5 percent have used marijuana.

Even worse, about 50 percent of high school seniors do not think it’s harmful to try crack or cocaine once or twice, and 40 percent believe it’s not harmful to use heroin once or twice.

The neglect drug education programs receive is a cruel irresponsibility on the part of schools who are supposed to protect the kids they teach.

It’s no surprise that the lightheartedness that now surrounds Red Ribbon Week eventually overpowered its true message; to many kids, the weak attempts at drug prevention is much more of a joke than a lesson. Kids smoking blunts in school bathrooms ironically wear the stark red ‘Just Say No’ button to get a few laughs from their friends.

They aren’t sad. They aren’t scared. They don’t care.

This needs to change. Today, the origin of the Red Ribbon Program is completely unrecognized by most; Enrique Camarena’s legacy seems to fade with each passing generation.

Even worse, Red Ribbon Spirit Weeks seemed to disappear altogether from schools across the country; even at Westview Red Ribbon Week is nearly non-existent, with little recognition from  either educators or students, even in the face of a drug bust on our campus only two years ago.

Amidst a worsening opioid crisis, the legalization of marijuana, and the continuing “War on Drugs,” it is vital for students to be exposed to the harsh realities of drug abuse and addiction in their world.

Further, an honest education in the dangers of substance abuse is vital in raising a lost generation of teenagers into successful and intelligent adults.

Through the re-implementation of Red Ribbon Week in America’s schools, students can reinstill honor Camarena’s legacy and revive the true purpose behind  Red Ribbon Week and drug education in full.