Authored by Elliott Redwine, | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Drew, MD
Last Updated: August 22, 2021

Do you remember Red Ribbon Week when you were in school? Maybe it wasn’t until your child was in grade school that the drug, alcohol, and tobacco abuse campaign came to be. Every October, public and private schools across the United States dedicate a week to teaching students about the threat of drugs.

Many schools pass out the characteristic Red Ribbon Week wristbands. Some restaurants and stores even offer discounts or free items to students who wear them. Schools often have dress-up days to draw more students’ attention to the problems they’re discussing.

Red Ribbon Week begins on October 23 every year. It’s a nationwide drug abuse awareness and prevention campaign organized by National Family Partnership. Red Ribbon Week is devoted to encouraging students early on to “Just say no!” to drugs, hoping to slow the detrimental effects of substances on the nation.

Despite efforts to curb drug and alcohol use among students, it seems kids are still intrigued by substances. Illicit substance use among 12- to 27-year-olds has been on the rise each year since 2016. More than 17% of adolescents in this age range have used illicit drugs in the past year.

The strange times of 2020 have many parents and officials worried about substance and alcohol use among adolescents, too. Red Ribbon Week is possibly more necessary now than ever before. Even though this year looks different, schools across the country are acknowledging and celebrating the importance of living drug-free!

Red Ribbon Week in Pennsylvania

History of Red Ribbon Week

National Family Partnership sponsored the country’s first Red Ribbon Week in October 1988. The idea for Red Ribbon Week started a few years earlier, though, in 1985. It began as a public reaction to the awful murder of Enrique (Kiki) Camarena, a Drug Enforcement Administration Agent.

Camarena was a driven, hard-working family man who felt called to help people. After graduating high school, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps and then became a police officer. He then joined the DEA in 1974, telling his mother, “I’m only one person but I want to make a difference.”

After assisting the DEA in various locations for a decade, he was transferred to Guadalajara, Mexico in 1980. Camarena was sent to investigate the alarming surge in drug trafficking in Mexico around the time. Well-respected by his fellow agents, Camarena’s work led to the discovery of a 200-acre marijuana plantation in 1984.

Unfortunately, high-level traffickers had their eyes on Camarena. He was abducted while on his way to meet with his wife for lunch on February 7, 1985. His abductors tortured and then murdered him, leaving his body in a rural area nearby.

Camarena’s body was discovered almost a month later on March 5, 1985. His brutal death enraged communities across the country. People started wearing red ribbons to honor the sacrifice Camarena made trying to stop the spread of drug use.

National Family Partnership officially recognized Red Ribbon Week as a nationwide campaign in 1988. Today, every October 23rd to 31st marks the recognition and celebration of Camarena’s work. Though Red Ribbon Week had a gut-wrenching beginning, Camarena has made a far bigger difference than he might have imagined.

Drug and Alcohol Use in the United States

It’s impossible to deny the impact that drug and alcohol abuse have on the United States today. Frequent, casual alcohol abuse rates are still high among a quarter of the population. About 88,000 people die of alcohol-related fatalities every year in the United States. This makes alcohol the third-leading cause of preventable death in the country.

Drug use is no different. The opioid epidemic plaguing the country shows little sign of slowing down. Nearly 450,000 people have lost their lives to an opioid overdose between 1999 and 2018. The 1990s were racked by prescription opioids and 2010 saw a rise in heroin overdoses. Synthetic opioids caused the most recent and drastic spike that started in 2013.

Alcohol and substance use disorders, in general, are also a serious problem throughout the country. 14.5 million people ages 12 and older (5.3% of the population) have an active alcohol use disorder. Additionally, 8.3 million people in the same age range (3.0% of the population) have an illicit drug use disorder.

drug use in the United States

Addiction Statistics in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is not immune to the effects of alcohol and drug addiction either. In fact, the state had the third-highest number of deaths due to drug overdose in 2017. Drug overdose rates in Pennsylvania were more than two times the national average that year.

The opioid epidemic has an especially strong grasp on the state as well. Pennsylvania’s Department of Health calls the prescription opioid and heroin overdose epidemic the “worst public health crisis in Pennsylvania.” All counties in Pennsylvania feel at least some of the effects of the opioid epidemic. 

An estimated 287,063 have a drug use disorder in Pennsylvania. Drug overdoses claimed the lives of 4,348 people in 2019. 27,951 people were hospitalized for an opioid overdose between January 2018 and September 2929. Emergency medical services administered 43,854 doses of Naloxone during that same period.

The need for drug and alcohol education and awareness in Pennsylvania is clear.

Pennsylvania Red Ribbon Week Events

Red Ribbon Week is an important part of the fight against opioid abuse and addiction throughout Pennsylvania. The state has its own significant problems with drug and alcohol use. Governor Tom Wolf has made moves over the past few years to combat the effects of addiction in Pennsylvania

Governor Wolf announced a plan at the end of September, coinciding with National Recovery Month, called Life Unites Us. The campaign aims to reduce the stigma surrounding substance use disorders so residents feel safer asking for help. 

“The Life Unites Us campaign will help save lives by decreasing stigma in the commonwealth,” said Governor Wolf. “And it will remind us all that every person is greater than the diseases that afflict them.” 

Red Ribbon Week has always been important in Somerset County, too. Anti-drug posters adorn the courthouse steps each year and rallies draw attention to the battle against drug addiction. Even though COVID-19 put a stop to many in-person gatherings, Somerset County won’t let up on their campaign.

Somerset County Drug-Free Communities, a nonprofit organization, leads the Red Ribbon Week celebration. Their message this year is, “Be Happy. Be Brave. Be Drug-Free.” The organization is hosting weekly sessions for parents and community members to educate them and offer resources on the effects of drug use.

The Drug Enforcement Administration also hosts events in honor of their fallen Agent Camarena. This year they hosted the Red Ribbon Rally Virtually and posted a recording online. It’s available for anyone interested in supporting the fight against drug abuse throughout the country.

Red Ribbon Week Pledge

Students are encouraged to take the Red Ribbon Week Pledge as part of their decision to stay drug-free. The pledge goes: 

“I pledge to stay in school and learn the things that I need to know.”

“I pledge to make the world a better place for kids like me to grow.”

“I pledge to keep my dreams alive and be all that I can be.”

“I pledge to help others and to keep myself drug-free.”

How Can You Celebrate Red Ribbon Week?

Communities across the country gather to celebrate Red Ribbon Week every year. An estimated 80 million people, including students, parents, teachers, and officials, participate in the campaign. Now more than 30 years old, the Red Ribbon Week campaign’s mission remains the same as at the start.

Red Ribbon Week serves as a springboard for conversations about the effects of drug addiction, alcoholism, and tobacco use. These are not easy topics to bring up with your children but they must understand what drugs can do. Red Ribbon Week events at their school introduce the idea and opens the opportunity to talk with them further.

The campaign wants to help parents express the importance of choosing to live drug-free. You can also use the time to learn more about the effects of drugs on your community, too. What are the impacts of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use in Pennsylvania and how is your community responding?

group therapy in Pennsylvania

Finding Help for Addiction in Pennsylvania

Red Ribbon Week is a crucial part of raising awareness in Pennsylvania. Sometimes people need more help than a week-long campaign can offer, though. Drug and alcohol treatment is a vital part of the recovery of millions of people around the country. Do you or someone you know need help?

Peace Valley Recovery offers the best alcohol and drug rehab in Pennsylvania. If you’re looking to quit using drugs and alcohol, we’re here to help. Reach out to our confidential line today at (215) 780-1953 and let us know what we can do for you!

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