Red Ribbon Week, the national drug-awareness campaign, begins today. This is the 35th year of the annual event, which began to honor the memory of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, who was kidnapped, and tortured to death in 1985 in Guadalajara, Mexico. The horrific details of his death — drug cartel members had doctors on hand to revive Camarena when he lost consciousness so that he could continue feeling the torture — inspired family, friends and members of the public to raise awareness of the human cost of the illegal drug trade. They began wearing red ribbons to honor Camarena, which became the symbol of a national anti-drug campaign.
Rid Ribbon Week has been a major event in schools across America; residents everywhere likely have seen red ribbons and anti-drug statements hung on school fences every year; students and their parents surely remember pajama days and other Red Ribbon activities.
Over the years Red Ribbon Week has changed, just as society has changed. For example, the anti-drug message has expanded to highlight the abuse and misuse of prescription drug such as opiate pain killers, tranquilizers and other medications. The national Institutes of Health estimates that in 1917 some 18 million people — more than 6% of the U.S. population — had used prescription drugs improperly in the previous year.
In addition, a growing number of Americans is starting to take a look at the Drug War itself. Global interdiction policies raise drug prices, creating a black market and attracting scofflaws who see the opportunity to get rich quick. Noting that drug criminalization has created the same dynamics, with the same results, as alcohol prohibition, many people have started calling for decriminalization of at least some drugs. Several states already have legalized marijuana use; some for medicinal purposes and some without regard to how it’s used.
At least one presidential candidate, Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, has promised to release all nonviolent drug offenders from our nation’s prisons if elected.
To be sure, legalizing drugs won’t cure society’s ills. Repealing alcohol prohibition removed many incentives for organized syndicates to operate, but they simply moved to other realms such as gambling, prostitution and organized labor.
Most importantly, the dangers of the improper use of medications, legal or not, will remain whether the cartels exist or not.
Drug-related issues continue to change, such as the growing debate over childhood vaccinations and concerns over emergency development of new vaccines to battle threats such as COVID-19. This could lead to further expansion of the Red Ribbon message in the future.
With most students still taking classes at home, Red Ribbon Week this year might not have such as high profile, but it still will be addressed in schools across America. And with good reason, as improper drug use remains a major concern and efforts to protect the public remain a major part of national policy. We encourage parents to be prepare themselves to discuss such matters with their children and answer any questions they might have.