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Dr. Wood: Red Ribbon Week mobilizes Thurston County against substance abuse

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Prior to joining the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Enrique Camarena told his mother (after her attempts to talk him out of taking the job): “I’m only one person … but I want to make a difference.”

In 1985, after Camarena’s death following his kidnapping, the National Family Partnership organized the first Nationwide Red Ribbon Campaign to raise awareness of the killing and destruction caused by illegal drugs.

People across the country began wearing red satin badges in Camarena’s honor. Others formed coalitions to educate and encourage participation in drug prevention activities. The Red Ribbon Campaign is now the nation’s oldest and largest drug prevention program, reaching millions of young people each year during Red Ribbon Week, Oct. 23-31.

Although years have passed since Camarena’s death, prevention activities, like Red Ribbon Week, are equally important today as illicit drug use in the United States continues to affect our communities.

According to 2013 data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older — 9.4 percent of the population — had used an illicit drug in the past month. This number is up from 8.3 percent in 2002. The increase mostly reflects a recent rise in use of marijuana.

To bring this closer to home, the 2014 Washington State Healthy Youth Survey — which students take anonymously in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 — shows the number of Thurston County students using marijuana has held relatively steady for the past two years, but more than a third of those youth who use marijuana are now doing so more than 10 times a month.

This, coupled with the fact that fewer youth consider marijuana use to be risky, is concerning, since research shows that when the perceived risk from using substances goes down, substance use typically goes up.

With coalitions gaining momentum in the Red Ribbon Campaign, a similar effort has developed locally.

In 2011, the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery began a new statewide prevention system, the Community Prevention and Wellness Initiative, establishing substance abuse prevention coalitions targeting the highest need communities in each county. Out of this effort, Rainier Community Cares and Tenino/Bucoda Healthy Action Team were formed by citizens, supported by the nonprofit TOGETHER.

The great thing about prevention efforts is that anyone, at any time, can get involved. Whether it is joining the coalitions or another prevention program, all contribute to the greater good of our communities.

Other prevention programs happening in our area:

▪ Mentoring (Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington)

▪ Parenting Classes (Family Education and Support Services)

▪ Nurse Family Partnership (Thurston County Public Health & Social Services Department)

▪ Parents as Teachers (Community Youth Services)

▪ Project ALERT and Project SUCCESS (Educational Service District 113)

▪ Strengthening Families, Say it Straight, Media Detective, and SPORT (TOGETHER)

▪ Party Intervention Patrol (Thurston County Target Zero)

Additionally, the Thurston Thrives Child and Youth Resilience action team, led by County Commissioner Sandra Romero and Liz Davis, chief executive officer of Northwest Venture Philanthropy, have identified the goals of reducing problem behaviors (like physical and emotional abuse, domestic violence, and substance abuse) and promoting individual and family resilience as ways to reduce the number of adverse childhood experiences and improve the overall health of our community and its residents.

In recognition of National Red Ribbon Week, think about what you can do to make a difference in your community.

For more information, contact Amy Martin at martiam@co.thurston.wa.us.

Dr. Rachel C. Wood is the health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501, woodr@co.thurston.wa.us, co.thurston.wa.us/health, @ThurstonHealth on Twitter, or facebook.com/ThurstonHealth.

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