Red Ribbon Week especially important this year

At a time when people of all ages continue to struggle with the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the anti-drug message of Red Ribbon Week is more important than ever.

The weeklong campaign, which runs Oct. 23-31, has a different focus each year. The 2021 theme is “Drug Free Looks Like Me.” The week provides an opportunity for people to show their support for a drug-free America and to talk to children about making healthy choices.

Red Ribbon Week was created after the death of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, a special agent who worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration. In 1985, Camarena was kidnapped and killed by drug traffickers in Guadalajara, Mexico. In his honor, parents and youth in communities across the country began wearing red ribbons as a symbol of their commitment to raise awareness around his killing and the destruction caused by drugs in America.

Those red ribbons inspired the National Family Partnership to sponsor its first National Red Ribbon Campaign in 1988.

Families can participate by entering the National Red Ribbon Week photo contest, nominating an outstanding leader in the field of drug prevention for The Enrique Camarena Red Ribbon Award, taking the #DrugFreeLooksLikeMe social media challenge or even talking about drug and alcohol use as a family. For links and other ideas, visit

The statistics surrounding substance use by students in high school illustrate the importance of focusing on a message of abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

By their senior year, about two-thirds of students have tried alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About half of all high school students reported having tried marijuana. Almost 20 percent of seniors reported using prescription medicine without a prescription.

Perhaps the most shocking statistic on the list is that people ages 12 to 20 consume 10 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States.

Given the depression and anxiety that have plagued many over the last 18 months, we don’t expect to see those numbers improve anytime soon.

Substance use can have lifelong effects that teens might not take into consideration when a friend encourages them to have a drink or smoke a joint. Substance use can affect the growth and development of teens, especially brain development.

Using can influence teens to participate in other risky behaviors, such as driving while impaired or having unprotected sex. Substance use also can contribute to the development of adult health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and sleep disorders.

It can be easy for parents to feel at a disadvantage when it comes to influencing their teens, who spend so much time out of the house and are exposed to so much over social media. But studies shows peers AND family members influence substance use. Parents who have strong bonds with their kids and who talk regularly with them about drug use can help lower the risk of substance abuse or addiction.

For more information, visit the following websites:

• U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration at

• Get Smart About Drugs at

• National Institute on Drug Abuse at

• National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at

• Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at

Red Ribbon Week is the perfect time to continue — or start — the conversation.