The School Newspaper of Cherry Hill High School East

Eastside

The School Newspaper of Cherry Hill High School East

Eastside

The School Newspaper of Cherry Hill High School East

Eastside

Do programs like Red Ribbon Week work?

Red+Ribbon+Week+is+unsuccessful+in+preventing+drug+abuse.
Red Ribbon Week is unsuccessful in preventing drug abuse.

The Red Ribbon Campaign undoubtedly has noble intentions. In honor of a fallen Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique Camerena, the Red Ribbon Campaign aims to keep students away from drugs, alcohol and violence. However, what is done at Cherry Hill High School East is ineffective at curbing drug use, and at worst, fills the spot of better initiatives that could more meaningfully tackle the issue.
Every year from October 23rd to 31st, Red Ribbon Week takes place to spread awareness about drug and alcohol abuse and violence prevention among students. At East, this initiative takes the form of dress-up days throughout the week. Red Ribbon Week dates back to 1988 and was organized by the National Family Partnership, also getting a seal of approval from Congress and Nancy Reagan. Another well-known organization for drug and violence prevention and awareness is DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), founded in 1983, with the expressed goal to “teach effective peer resistance and refusal skills so that adolescents can say ‘no’ to drugs and their friends who may want them to use drugs.” The two both share common styles of anti-drug abuse education, importantly including the same kind of messaging about the dangerous effects of drugs and alcohol and methods of making it somewhat entertaining. While the effects of Red Ribbon Week have not been thoroughly studied, DARE’s has.
In the last 40 years, it has become clear the extent to which DARE, an organization who’s is effective. The answers are in: It’s not. The Research Triangle Institute found that the program was ineffective in every category they measured, which were knowledge and attitudes towards drugs, social skills and drug use. Another study performed by the American Psychological Institute tracked over 1,000 individuals who received DARE education in 6th grade. They reported that these individuals, now in their twenties, found that DARE had no effect on drug use, drug attitudes, or self-esteem when they were compared to their peers who did not participate in DARE.
The reasons for DARE’s failure are the same reasons why Red Ribbon Week is not effective in curbing drug use. Both express a very similar message in their education, the idea that by just saying no to drugs and alcohol, people can be rid of addiction. This message is often mocked and not taken seriously, as it is seen as a naive way to deal with drug abuse. It fails to examine why drug use is so common among American teenagers.
According to the National Center for Drug Abuse statistics, 50% of teenagers have abused a drug and, disturbingly, drug use by 8th graders went up by 61% from 2016 to 2020. These statistics have dire implications in the United States. Over 96,700 people died between March 2021 and March 2022 from drug overdose, a number that increases by 30% year after year. In 70% of these cases, opioids were a factor in overdose.
This is part of the reason the “just say no” mentality of the Dare and Red Ribbon Week is so frustrating. Opioid addiction is a crisis that more often than not starts in a doctor’s office. These highly addictive pills, most infamously oxycontin, are prescribed by doctors and are extremely hard to get off of. In this new stage of the drug crisis in America, in which the opioid crisis is a major factor, the “just say no” message of the 80s and 90s is even more tone deaf than ever before.
Clearly, the nationwide Red Ribbon Week as a program has its flaws. But, East’s implementation of it embodies these issues completely. While coming from a good place, East’s methods fail to consider the lessons learned from DARE. All the data shows that dress up days and the stay away from drug messaging that dominate East’s Red Ribbon Week are a recipe for an ineffective program.
There are many reasons why American teenagers and Americans might choose to try drugs, to try to cope with difficult life events, for fun or maybe social pressure. However, just because there is no clear way to 100% effectively end drug use in teenagers doesn’t mean we have to be stuck with dated and ineffective drug use prevention. Adding practical and objective education about the effects of narcotics rather than trying to scare teenagers away from them is a good first step. Instead of “just say no” why don’t we teach students how to administer Narcan, a nasal spray that can treat narcotic overdose in an emergency situation? Red Ribbon is a national movement and the name doesn’t have to change, but the events centered around it do. A Pajama day is not going to stop the over two million teenagers who will abuse drugs at least once this year and won’t protect the over 100,000 Americans who are going to overdose.

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About the Contributor
Daniel Ovadia, Eastside Opinions Editor
Daniel is a junior at Cherry Hill High School East. He is arguably the best Eastside Print Opinions to have ever existed. He is involved in running, BBYO and Model UN. In his free time he enjoys watching sports and listening to music.

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