Red Ribbon Week, the oldest and largest drug prevention program in the United States, is coming up soon. This year, the annual week-long event takes place October 23-31, 2011. It's a time when people and communities can take the opportunity to come together and unite in a visible stand against drugs. The theme of this year's event is "It's Up To Me To Be Drug Free." This couldn't be more appropriate, as prevention of drug use and abuse certainly begins with individual efforts and commitment. Each of us, in fact, shares a personal responsibility to help create a drug-free environment in which we live, work and play. Why the Red Ribbon Campaign Started The origins of the Red Ribbon Campaign began in 1985 when drug traffickers in Mexico City murdered Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique ("Kiki") Camarena. Following this brutal and senseless murder, the practice of displaying red ribbons as a symbol of intolerance toward the use of drugs began. The mission of the Red Ribbon Campaign is to present a unified and highly visible community commitment towards the creation of a drug-free America. The national sponsor of the Red Ribbon Campaign is the National Family Partnership. This is a group that helps citizens across the United States to work together to keep children, families and communities safe, healthy and drug-free. They do this through providing parent training, networking and sponsoring the National Red Ribbon Campaign. Sign the Red Ribbon Pledge The facts point up how important parental involvement is in preventing drug abuse among our children. Research shows that children of parents who regularly talk to their teens about drugs are 42 percent less likely to use drugs than those who don't communicate with their children about these dangers. Yet this same research shows that only a quarter of teens report having these conversations with their parents. How can individuals support Red Ribbon Week? It's easy. Everyone can start by taking the Red Ribbon Pledge. Go to the Red Ribbon Campaign website and sign the pledge. In essence, what we do when we take the pledge is: \tAs parents, we pledge to talk to our children about the dangers of drug abuse. \tWe pledge that we will set clear rules for our children about not using drugs. \tWe promise we will set a good example for our children by not using illegal drugs or medicine ourselves without a prescription. \tWe also promise to monitor our children's behavior and to make sure we enforce consequences we have stipulated, so that our family rules are respected. \tWe further pledge that we will encourage family and friends to follow these same guidelines to keep all our children safe from substance abuse. The specific pledge language is this: "I pledge to set guidelines to help children grow up safe, healthy and drug-free." Help Plan an Event in the Community Another way to get involved in Red Ribbon Week is to help plan an event in your community or school. The easiest way to get started is to download the 2011 Red Ribbon Parent\/School Planning Guide. The guide is filled with information about how to support the Red Ribbon Campaign, suggestions on what type of events to plan, Red Ribbon school certification, sample proclamations and more. Tips for Parents on Creating a Drug-Free Home The National Family Partnership (NFP) has a list of tips that parents can follow to help ensure their homes are a drug-free environment. \tLock all medications. Every day, 3,300 more children begin experimenting with drugs. These are prescription drugs and 70 percent of those who have abused pain medication say that they get the meds from friends and family. If prescription drugs are out in plain sight or easily accessible by your children, this is an open invitation for them to partake. Peer pressure can quickly lead to small amounts of pills disappearing, and then more, and before long, your child may be hooked. Prevent your children from abusing your pain medication or any prescription drugs by securing them in places where your child cannot access them. \tTake a medication inventory. Experts recommend that you take a thorough inventory of all the medications in your home. You can download a home medicine inventory card at the NFP website. Use the home medicine inventory card to write down the name and amount of medications you currently have and then regularly check back to see that nothing is missing. \tGet educated. The only way that you'll be truly on top of the situation is to educate yourself and your children about the dangers of prescription drugs. Learn all you can first about the most commonly abused type of prescription medications, including pain relievers, sedatives, stimulants and tranquilizers, and then communicate such information regularly to your children. Remember, one time talking about the dangers of prescription drugs is not enough. You need to repeat the message so it gets through. \tEstablish clear family rules and enforce them. It's important that both parents sit down with children and establish clear family rules about not using prescription drugs without a prescription. It's also vital that parents monitor their children's behavior to make sure the family rules are being followed and, if they're not, to enforce the consequences you've established. \tTalk with other parents. Now that you've become more educated about the dangers of using prescription drugs for non-medical purposes, pass along your information, experience and support to the parents of your children's friends. Getting more parents involved helps create a tipping point for change. The goal is to raise safe, healthy and drug-free children. \tDispose of old or unused medication properly. When you have medications that are expired, no longer used, or you've been instructed by your doctor to discontinue using them, don't just leave them sitting in your medicine cabinet, on the kitchen counter, your nightstand or elsewhere around the house and in plain sight. Properly dispose of them. According to federal guidelines, never flush prescription drugs down a toilet or drain unless the label or accompanying patient information specifically says to do so. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has information on drugs that should be flushed. For prescription drugs not labeled to be flushed, take advantage of community drug take-back programs or other programs, such as household hazardous waste events, that collect drugs at a central location for proper disposal.