During the 1980s, drug and alcohol use was a major public health concern. The crack epidemic and black tar heroin ravaged low-income communities across the United States. Neighborhoods nationwide were growing tired of the effects that drugs and alcohol had on their loved ones.

To combat widespread drug use, the National Family Partnership spearheaded the National Red Ribbon Campaign in 1988. Also known as Red Ribbon Week, the movement is intended to present a visible commitment to living a healthy, safe and substance-free life.

Held Oct. 23–31, Red Ribbon Week aims to educate youth about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. According to the National Red Ribbon Campaign website, the campaign has informed millions of individuals around the world about the realities of substance use.

Each year, the program adopts a theme that is intended to change thoughts and behaviors associated with drug and alcohol misuse. This year’s motto is, “Life Is Your Journey, Travel Drug-Free.” Created by a middle-school student in Solon, Ohio, the slogan will be used in schools and communities across the nation.

History of Red Ribbon Week

On Feb. 7, 1985, Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena left his office to meet his wife for lunch when five drug traffickers whom he was investigating shoved him into a car. His body was found one month later. Investigators concluded that he had been tortured and murdered.

In response to Camarena’s death, his friends, family and neighbors began wearing red, satin badges that they say represented a belief that one person can make a difference. Parents began creating anti-drug coalitions in Camarena’s honor. The red ribbon soon became the symbol of this movement.

In 1988, the National Family Partnership organized the first Red Ribbon Week. President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan served as honorary chairpersons of the first Red Ribbon installment. Each year since, the campaign has grown in popularity and prestige.

Wearing red ribbons during October continues to represent a desire to live a substance-free life. Many people also don these ribbons to pay respects to those who have died as a result of drug and alcohol misuse.

A person holds a red ribbon in their palms.

How You Can Help

Red Ribbon Week is the oldest and largest drug prevention program in the United States. The National Red Ribbon Campaign allows Americans to unite and take a stand against substance use. A key aspect of the program is to spread awareness for drug and alcohol addiction.

During Red Ribbon Week, you can make a difference. You can help spread awareness for drug and alcohol misuse by:

  • Discussing the consequences of substance use with family, friends, colleagues or classmates.
  • Talking to teens and children about the importance of living a drug-free lifestyle.
  • Creating blogs or social media posts about how drug or alcohol addiction is a reality among people of all backgrounds.
  • Helping people in recovery identify sober activities and find jobs.
  • Encouraging youths to engage in physical activities, like a recreational sport.

You can also attend a Red Ribbon event. The goal of many of these events is to educate communities about the risks of drug use and help individuals struggling with addiction to find appropriate treatment. As of September 2018, more than 140 Red Ribbon events are slated to be held in the United States. To find an event near you, visit the Red Ribbon website.

If you’re struggling with drug or alcohol misuse, treatment may be needed. The Recovery Village operates several rehab centers throughout the United States. Each facility is equipped with trained medical experts who cater treatment plans to meet your specific needs. To learn how treatment can help you better manage your addiction, contact The Recovery Village.