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‘Red Ribbon Week’ Promotes Drug Awareness, Prevention

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2011 – Promoting drug awareness and preventing illegal drug use among service members and their families is the aim of an annual campaign Pentagon officials are highlighting this week.

The Defense Department has observed “Red Ribbon Week” since 1990. This year’s observance began yesterday and continues through Oct. 31.

The campaign honors Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, a Drug Enforcement Agency agent and former Marine, who was kidnapped and murdered by drug traffickers in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1985, officials said. People in Camarena’s hometown of Calexico, Calif., began wearing red ribbons in tribute to him, and DOD joined in honoring him 21 years ago.

“The first thing in Red Ribbon Week is drug awareness,” said Joseph Angello, the Defense Department’s director of operational readiness and safety. “Drug use is a readiness issue. We are blessed with some of the finest men and women this nation has to offer. We don’t want them to be using drugs.” Drug abuse was prevalent in the “hollow force” of the 1970s, he added. “It’s an issue we have faced [that] we have successfully met and will continue to meet,” he said.

Angello cited readiness as the prime reason for concern about any type of drug use by military members.

“We cannot have people in the business of arms with drug impairments,” he said, noting that this applies both to prescription drugs and illegal drugs. “We have to be full up and ready.” Some new synthetic drugs, such as the one known as “spice,” are advertised as semilegal, Angello said. “Believe me, they are not,” he added.

“In the military you can’t use anything that looks, smells, or acts like spice,” he said.

Angello spoke about a DEA-initiated “National Prescription Drug Take Back Day,” a program designed to help prevent prescription drug abuse.

“What we, in DOD, want to make sure is that people aren’t [abusing] prescription drugs,” he said. “Drugs that are meant for a medical condition, … when the prescription is done, you dispose of the excess drugs. If you haven’t used them all, you turn them in.”

Prescription drug abuse or illegal drug use both result in diminished mental capacity, Angello said, and people with a prescription drug problem should get into a substance abuse program.

Red Ribbon Week emphasizes sources of help available for those with substance-abuse issues, Angello said.

“All our services have substance abuse programs,” he said. “And Red Ribbon Week is an awareness issue for our families as well.”

Angello reminded service members and civilian employees that the Defense Department uses random drug testing as a deterrent to drug abuse.

“Get yourself help. Don’t wait to be caught on a [screening],” he said. “Get yourself help now. This nation can’t afford to have people who are not fully alert. We are in the business of arms -- it is a lethal business. We must have everyone fully [alert] for it.”


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