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Red Ribbon Week serves a reminder
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Oct. 22-30, is the annual celebration of National Red Ribbon Week. This campaign is the oldest and largest drug prevention program in the nation and dates back to 1985, when Special Agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena was tortured and murdered by drug traffickers in Mexico. This awful tragedy became a way of generating hope, as the tradition of displaying red ribbons as a symbol of intolerance towards the abuse of drugs began. Each year, more and more Americans participate in Red Ribbon events, wearing a red ribbon to affirm their commitment to drug prevention education and honoring the sacrifice Agent Camarena made on our behalf.

Across America, communities like ours are celebrating Red Ribbon Week by doing special projects in schools, hosting Red Ribbon events, and participating in parades. This effort is being made in the spirit of encouraging people to continue to pledge to live drug-free lives, remain drug-free, and remember those that have been lost in the fight against drugs.

The consumption of illegal substances and abuse of prescription drugs amounts to a distinct act of selfishness. The consequences of drug abuse go far beyond the accompanying health problems and have implications for the community and our society as a whole. The conventional wisdom of many people is that drug abuse is essentially a victimless crime. It is not so. In order to be able to consume illegal substances, there has to be production and distribution networks for the drugs. The aforementioned have the more obvious far-reaching criminal implications, and other societal problems that include, but are not limited to violence, violations of human rights, involuntary servitude, kidnapping and other dehumanizing consequences.

The large scale illegal drug industry is controlled entirely by various levels of organized crime. More recently, evidence of the existence of cartel operations in our region has surfaced with the seizure of literally tons of marijuana that had been grown as part of a mass production operation. The production, distribution and sales of illegal drugs spawns violent criminal gangs that fight each other for sales territory where innocent people often end up in the crossfire of these gang wars, persons with severe addictions often end up jobless and turn to stealing, prostitution and other crimes to support their addictions. International terrorist organizations have been using the drug trade to generate finances that fund deadly attacks on innocent persons around the world and there are huge direct and indirect costs associated with the lost productivity of persons who can no longer work or whose job performance is compromised because of the destructive consequences of drug abuse.

We know that the problem of illegal drug abuse by so many people is one that keeps this nation from being the best it can be. Drug abuse often destroys the user, tears apart their families, and interferes with their ability to function at work and be productive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the estimated costs of substance abuse in our country, including productivity, health, and crime-related costs are more than $600 billion annually.

Drug abuse starts with the abusers making the conscious, selfish choice to feel good or escape the pressures of life by using drugs. But at some point, their drug use transforms them into a victim, without control over their addiction. And without extraordinary personal effort, healthcare assistance and support from friends and family, few ever successfully break the habit and stay clean.

Law enforcement has its rightful role in dealing with the problem of illegal drug abuse, yet, our impact is relatively small. While most drug abusers are aware that their habits create certain legal risks for them, the drugs have such a powerful grip on them that being caught and arrested is of relatively little concern. Drug addicts live for their next high, so everything else becomes secondary.

Red Ribbon Week is prevention and awareness oriented, and frankly, it and other similar programs are the real hope for solving this national problem. Those of us who work in public safety appreciate the people who support and participate in Red Ribbon Week. Please join me in the fight against drugs by wearing a red ribbon this week and sharing the message of hope.