Tag Archives: substance abuse

The History Behind Red Ribbon Week

Every year America’s schools celebrate Red Ribbon Week during the last week of October. Students know that Red Ribbon Week is about raising awareness of the dangers of substance abuse, but many students might not know the story behind the red ribbons.

“Kiki” Camarena was born on July 26, 1947. He was a Mexican immigrant to California, and he joined the Marine Corps after graduating from high school. After he was discharged, Kiki worked as a fireman, a police investigator, and a narcotics investigator in California.

As a result of his concern over the growing drug problem in the United States, he became a Special Agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1974. In July of 1981, Kiki was assigned to a DEA office in Mexico. His mission was to find those who were dealing illegal substances and help stop the drug trade across the Mexican border into the United States. During his work, Kiki discovered leads into a multi-billion dollar drug pipeline.

On February 7, 1985, Kiki was on his way to meet his wife for lunch when he was kidnapped in broad daylight, then brutally tortured and murdered. His body was not found until March 5, 1985. Many organized crime figures from Mexico were arrested for his torture and murder.

Reflecting on his life and work, his family remembers something Kiki once said: “Even if I’m only one person, I can make a difference.”

Not long after Kiki’s death, a congressman and one of Kiki’s friends from high school established a club in Kiki’s hometown where the members promised to lead a drug-free life and wore a red ribbon to honor those who have been lost in the war against drugs.

This program gained popularity and in 1988, the grass roots campaign went national with President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan serving as honorary chairpersons. Since then, the Red Ribbon campaign has grown and is now celebrated in most American schools.

When you see a student wearing a red ribbon, ask if they know Kiki’s story and the reasons behind Red Ribbon Week.

Substance Abuse Among Soldiers Being Ignored

In a memo to Army commanders, the Army’s vice chief of staff General Peter Chiarelli said that instances of substance abuse among hundreds of soldiers are being ignored, possibly because commanders don’t want to lose any more troops. But identifying and treating substance abuse among soldiers will help improve the Army’s mental health care and curb suicides, which jumped to a record 142 confirmed or suspected cases in 2008.

Chiarelli said that hundreds of soldiers involved in “substance abuse-related misconduct (including multiple positive urinalyses” were not processed for possible discharge or referred to the Army Substance Abuse Program for help. He also said he’s worried that commanders feel a requirement to keep their numbers up and are thus letting drug abusers slide.

“I am asking you to ensure that soldiers are provided the help they need when they need it…and that regulatory requirements regarding the referral and initiation of separation processing of substance abusers are enforced,” he wrote in the memo.

Brig Gen. Colleen McGuire, head of the Army’s Suicide Prevention Task Force, said that at one installation where about 1,000 soldiers tested positive for substance abuse through urinalysis, 373 had failed the same drug test in the past, in some cases up to seven times. She said that other installations reported similar numbers.

USA TODAY reported a 25% increase in five years among soldiers treated for substance abuse, but the military needs a greater understanding of substance abuse, says Terri Tanielian, co-author of a RAND Corp. study into war-related mental health and brain injury cases. “I just don’t think we know enough,” she says.

In January, more soldiers committed suicide than died in combat. Numbers seem to be declining since March, but the problem still exists. Army leaders have launched several efforts to curb the rising number of suicides, including suicide-awareness training for soldiers and the suicide prevention task force. Chiarelli oversees the efforts and is briefed each month on every new suicide.

Source: USA Today, Greg Zoroya, Army Blasted for Letting Drug Abusers Slide, May 21, 2009