Red Ribbon Week to educate service members, civilians

18 Oct 2011 | Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

In 1985, Enrique Camarena, an undercover agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and former Marine, was kidnapped in Jalisco, Mexico following his work in destroying a marijuana plantation with an annual production valued at $8 billion. Camarena was tortured, killed and buried in a shallow grave. He was discovered one month later.

Three years later, U.S. Congress proclaimed that the last week of October be national Red Ribbon Week with the purpose to bolster awareness and combat drug use in honor of Camarena’s work. Twenty-three years later, the week is still honored, especially aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, where the week will be dedicated to raising awareness in both the military and civilian circles, Oct. 23 through 29.

“In order to have a healthy and productive work environment, it obviously must be drug-free,” said Geri G. Haga, regional drug program coordinator for Marine Corps Installations East. “Alongside that, we teach everyone on base of all ages the dangers and effects of drugs and how to find the various resources and classes we also teach.”

Red Ribbon Week is marked by the wearing of a red ribbon or red clothing during that period of time, whether it be by someone who overcame drug usage or a supporter against the abuse of drugs. Drug use has plagued society for countless decades, yet the efforts to stop such use have been ongoing for just as long. According to recent statistics, marijuana is the most used drug in the nation with crack cocaine and methamphetamines on the rise.

“While this week is geared toward drug abuse awareness and prevention, it is a concept that is continually enforced, 24/7,” said Haga. “However, it is not just the service members and civilian employees we focus on this week, but also the school children.”

The number one drug abuse problem occurring with children ranging from middle school to high school is the abuse of prescription drugs - 70 percent of them coming from their family or friends. To date, more than three million U.S. teenagers abuse prescription drugs with 3,300 more beginning to experiment with them on a daily basis.

“One of the most popular ways to abuse the prescription drugs is to hold ‘pharm parties,’” said Haga. “The teenagers take whatever they can find and put them all in a big bowl, taking handfuls of the sometimes deadly combinations.”

Among the vendors to be set up in various convenience stores across the base, presentations will be made to the base schools as well as being offered at the Workforce Learning Center aboard the base. On Oct. 25, a Substance Abuse Control Officers Summit will be held in which the base’s various SACOs, as well as top leaders, will gather to go over current base drug statistics and discuss future projections.

“Last year, we had 5,439 people go through our program with nine percent returning from later incidents,” said Robert Peebles, department head of the Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program, Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune. “From the end of September to now, there have been 849 drug-related visits. Any number other than zero, however, is too many.”

While drug use is considerably lower than in various organizations which boast the strength of personnel as MCB Camp Lejeune, the base unfortunately has its share of drug abusers. The 23rd of the month began the highlighting of what the base is committed to doing year-round: focusing on eliminating drug use and educating those against it.

“The schools, the (Marine Corps Exchange), the (recreation) centers, all will be sources of information and awareness for the week,” said Haga. “So wear some red or just have a red ribbon around – show your support for the removal of drugs from out workplace.”