Red Ribbon Week, an annual campaign centered on alcohol, tobacco, drug and violence prevention awareness, was sparked by the abduction, torture and murder of Mexican-born DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena in 1985. Observed during the last week of October, Red Ribbon Week shines a light on the sweeping damage done by drugs, which destroys communities and the youth dwelling within it.

The Red Ribbon Campaign is sponsored by the National Family Partnership (formerly the National Federation of Parents for Drug Free Youth) and it offers drug prevention education and advocacy to encourage communities to nurture youth in a drug-free environment. Camarena's kidnapping and murder occurred after he spent four years working undercover in Guadalajara, Mexico, which led to the discovery of a multimillion dollar smuggling operation in Chihuahua.

Because he helped to expose trade secrets, Camarena and his pilot, Captain Alfredo Zavala-Avelar, were taken and tortured to death by Mexican drug cartel members. Individuals from Camarena's hometown of Calexico, California began wearing red ribbons as a sign of respect, and that ribbon became symbol for illegal drug reduction and prevention. The first official National Red Ribbon Week took place in 1988. It was proclaimed by the U.S. Congress and chaired by Nancy Reagan. The week was instititued to bring awareness to the rippling dangers of drugs in the U.S.

Unfortunately, drug and alochol addiction appears to be on the rise in the U.S. Latino community. Hispanic youth are more likely to abuse marijuana, cocaine and alcohol than their peers, and according to a report published by New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in late 2014. Latinos face elevated risk of dying of a heroin overdose. Research published January 2015 addressed substance use patterns among U.S. Latino, and how it may be rooted in acculturation and changing attitudes toward Latinos, although that isn't true of all Latinos. Among Latino subgroups, researchers have documented different incidence rates of alcohol and drug abuse. Michigan State University produced a report in 2014, stating that Cuban-Americans have the lowest incidence rate of alcohol use. However, Mexican-Americans are more than twice as likely to as non-Hispanic whites to abuse alcohol, and Puerto Ricans are nearly three times as likely.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the devastation caused by drugs is layered, and it's most detrimental for the Latino and Latin American communities, immigrant communities and other communities of color. Disproportionately, Latinos are targeted by drug law enforcement, evident by the number of drug-related arrests and drug laws designed to unduly punish individuals hailing from communities of color. Also, immigrants, children, and women are frequently casualties of the drug war. They are more likely to be criminalized, separated from their families or denied fundamental rights. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University prepared a report that claims approximately 40,000 people have been deported for drug law violations every year since 2008. In 2013, nearly 20,000 people were deported simply for the possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia.

The Red Ribbon brings awareness to such issues, demonstrating that drug prevention education and advocacy can delay, slow or halt drug-related deaths, incarcerations and/or deportations. The National Family Partnership brings their concerns to policy makers on local, state and national levels, and they work with coalitions and parents to provoke conversations with key decision makers and national leaders. They've also developed brochures to education the public on their global campaigns, such as Red Ribbon Certified Schools and Lock Your Meds.

Learn more about Red Ribbon Week.