PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. - Red Ribbon Week is the nation's oldest and largest drug-prevention campaign in the country, reaching millions of Americans every year.

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 in support of Red Ribbon Week.

Although the start and end dates can vary slightly depending on the organization and source, Red Ribbon Week generally takes place the last full week in October and is actually an eight-day celebration. This year's Defense Department observance runs Oct. 24-31.

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. People in Camarena's hometown of Calexico, Calif., began wearing red ribbons in tribute to him, and the DOD joined in honoring him 21 years ago.

"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 [abusing] drugs," said Joseph Angello, the Defense Department's director of operational readiness and safety.

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."

While some new synthetic drugs, such as the one known as "spice," are advertised as semi-legal, Angello said "Believe me, they are not."

"In the military you can't use anything that looks, smells or acts like spice," he said.

Among other reasons, "a lot of these products are made in garages and homes, so you don't have quality control," said Army Col. Timothy Lyons, chief of toxicology in the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's Office. "Each package, even under the same name, has different levels of compounds. So you really just don't know what you're getting."

Designer drugs are not regulated or properly tested, and sellers often don't reveal their full ingredients, Lyons said. However, toxicologists know the compounds bind in the central nervous system, "and some of these synthetics bind even greater than marijuana," he added.

It isn't only illegal drugs the campaign focuses on; the Red Ribbon Campaign has also become a symbol of support for the DEA's efforts to reduce demand for drugs through prevention and education programs, including the DEA-initiated National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, a program designed to help prevent prescription drug abuse.

More than seven million Americans currently abuse prescription drugs, and, each day, approximately, 2,500 teens use prescription drugs to get high for the first time, according to the initiative's website,

The website also says that studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including the home medicine cabinet.

People who want to dispose of their excess or expired prescription drugs may drop them off at the Health Clinic on the Presidio, Central Avenue Pharmacy in Pacific Grove, Carmel Drug Store in Carmel, Ordway Pharmacy in Monterey or Advanced Waste Solutions in Marina.

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.
"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."

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."

Today, Red Ribbon Week is nationally recognized and celebrated, helping to preserve Camarena's memory and further the cause for which he gave his life.

The campaign is an effective way for communities and prevention groups to join together with one voice in support of a drug-free America.

The theme for the 2011 Red Ribbon Week Celebration is "It's up to me to be Drug Free," and it is a reminder of the dangers of unhealthy lifestyle habits.

"The Red Ribbon Campaign is a great opportunity to bring prevention education to the forefront and get the message out to our young people, parents, and our service members," said Tanya Klein, the Presidio of Monterey Army Substance Abuse Program's Alcohol and Drug Control officer. "The Red Ribbon Campaign also serves as a springboard to enhance and establish new relationships within the community through the school system."

In support of that effort this year, the Presidio ASAP Office provided Red Ribbon promotional items to the Child Youth and School Age Services for distribution to Porter Youth Center, Monterey Road Child Development Center and the child-care homes on post.

For additional information, visit Military OneSource at or the Army Substance Abuse Program at

(Lisa Daniel and Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr., American Forces Press Service, contributed to this article.)