Beyond Red Ribbon Week 

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In prevention, Red Ribbon Week (RRW) is kind of a big deal.  Celebrated October 23-31, 2022, RRW is a time for kids to pledge to be drug free.  A time for schools to have poster contests. A time for tying red ribbons on anything that doesn’t move.  But what is it and how can we turn this one time event into a larger environmental and educational strategy?

Red Ribbon Week is celebrated every year during the last week of October.  Starting in 1985, Red Ribbon Week has sought to draw attention to drug use and to help empower young people to make healthy choices.  This event was started by angered parents and community members in remembrance of the murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena. They began wearing red ribbons as a reminder of the destruction that can be caused by drugs.  From the beginning to now, communities and organizations have taken this small concept and it has blossomed into something much, much more.

Red Ribbon Week has a central website through the National Family Partnership at redribbon.org.  This site offers ideas, resources, activities, and a store where schools, agencies and individuals can plan out a Red Ribbon Campaign for their local school or community.  Typical activities include a poster contest, tying red ribbons around the school, special announcements about drug facts and supplying the students with a “Drug Free” pledge they can sign. These are all fun, feel good activities that bring awareness to drug use and its dangers…but does it contribute to long lasting change in young people and communities?

For those familiar with the CSAP (Center for Substance Abuse Prevention) Strategies, you may notice that the Red Ribbon Week Campaign focuses on a couple strategies.  First, RRW is information dissemination.  Most schools and communities use this week to put out statistics, information, one time assembly talks, and social media posts about the dangers of drugs.  Typically, there is not a lot of discussion that occurs and the communication in information dissemination is one way.  Second, RRW is an alternative strategy.  Giving students something to do and things to experience that are drug free is also an effective prevention strategy.  Both of these strategies are effective but not when used alone.  CSAP strategies are meant to be combined to create the most effective prevention interventions.

So, how do we do that?  Layer in some education.  Use this week to approach your local schools or community centers and ask if you can provide long term, multi session prevention education.  Education is one of the CSAP strategies that can be employed alone.  Work with a local coalition to harness their connections, collaborations and resources so that the community based process approach can be magnified.  Mixing in some environmental strategies can also multiply the impact. Use RRW as a time to talk to the school about updating their alcohol and drug policies.  Sponsor a drug take back day.  Educate the community about the need for drug lock boxes. Finally, RRW can bring up some questions people may have about their own use.  Begin some problem identification and referral techniques to screen consumers and refer them to appropriate assessment resources.

Celebrate Red Ribbon Week.  Judge a poster contest.  Tie some ribbons.  However, don’t let the momentum stop there.  Using the Strategic Prevention Framework and the CSAP strategies, you can create an all encompassing plan for your community that can be effective and create long lasting change for community members.