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Davis Journal

Red Ribbon Week – an opportunity to talk about drug abuse

Nov 10, 2021 02:00PM ● By Hannah Sandorf Davis

In the 1980s and 1990s K-12 schools began to focus on anti-drug campaigns. Though the DARE and Just Say No programs have mostly disappeared from the United States, Red Ribbon Week is still going strong in schools across the country, including Davis County. In October several Woods Cross and North Salt Lake schools again participated in Red Ribbon Week, including a Bingo challenge hosted by Davis Behavioral Health. 

Red Ribbon Week started in 1985 when the War on Drugs was a prominent policy. A Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent named Enrique “Kiki” Camarena was killed in Mexico while investigating drug cartels. Wearing red ribbons began as a memorial campaign to remember this sacrifice. It later became an effort to educate children on the dangers of drug use, addiction, and drug trafficking. Red Ribbon Week takes an inclusive instead of exclusive approach. Instead of focusing on what children should not do, it focuses instead on teaching children the power of their decisions and how those decisions can bring good things to their lives.

While Red Ribbon Week started as a drug avoidance awareness campaign, it has quickly grown into a school engagement activity. Drug use, addiction, and recovery are heavy topics to cover so many elementary school PTAs adopt theme days and fun activities built around ideas like emotional resilience and individualism. For this year, Foxboro Elementary PTA had themes like “crazy hair day” and “wear your school shirt.” Odyssey Elementary PTA kicked off their Red Ribbon Week with a wear red day and the theme for this year’s national Red Ribbon Week “Drug free looks like me!” Students could also sign a banner to pledge their commitment to be drug free that was hung up in the school.

Other schools focus less on their own programs and instead invite families to get involved with the community and challenges like the Bingo hosted by Davis Behavioral Health. This bingo challenge focused on students getting out and visiting local businesses like SeaQuest and Get Air with their family members. Building family and community connections can help students look for alternatives to drug use and combat childhood anxiety and depression.

Opinions about the effectiveness of Red Ribbon Week are mixed. Some research suggests that while Red Ribbon Week is good at raising awareness of drug use and addiction, it does not help to prevent those behaviors. However, one of the benefits of Red Ribbon Week may be that families are encouraged to open up conversations about drug use, children can ask questions in a safe environment and learn good habits from their communities. This open communication has been found to be helpful for children to avoid drug use.

Research suggests there are still benefits to running these awareness programs. Red Ribbon Week can also help students to role play and work through scenarios where they may be offered drugs for refusal. It can also help students develop empathy for people who are facing drug addiction as a mental health issue, as it is classified by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.