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Red ribbons mark ongoing fight

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By The Staff

The school colors may be maroon and white, but next week, students in the Owen County School District will be wearing red in honor of Red Ribbon Week.

The national awareness week began in the late 1980s in honor of Drug Enforcement Agent Enrique (Kiki) S. Camarena who had spent four and a half years on the trail of one of Mexico’s biggest marijuana and cocaine traffickers. Just days before Camarena was to make a bust that would unlock the pipeline that sent many drugs into the United States, he was kidnapped. His body was discovered nearly a month later.

Shortly after that incident, friends of the DEA agent began Camarena’s Clubs, and students in his hometown wore red ribbons and pledged to live drug-free lives in his honor. The movement spread and within a few years, students in schools across the country were pledging to stay drug- and alcohol-free.

Many might think that in a small, rural community such as Owen County, this type of activity is merely a feel-good event designed to give good kids an opportunity or reason to say “no” should they ever encounter drugs. But in reality, the issues we face here in Owen County are just as serious as in larger cities and school districts.

Over the last few months, teachers, administrators, parents and students have dealt with drug and alcohol abuse right here at home. Methods of use, even at school, are creative. But the results are the same. Our kids – yes Owen County kids – are facing the issues of using and abusing drugs.

There are immediate consequences and there are long-term consequences for which we as a community will be paying for years to come. There are health consequences and discipline consequences. But more importantly, these are our kids – Owen County kids – who are finding ways to introduce into their bodies drugs of all kinds that create highs that give them a false sense of well-being, a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose that they believe they can’t get from everyday life.

Still don’t believe it? Then listen to the kids.

According to self-reported statistics of local sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders on the statewide KIP survey taken in the fall of 2008:

• 21 percent of students say they have used alcohol in the last 30 days. Of those, 34 percent of 12th-graders have used in the last 30 days

• 16 percent have participated in a binge-drinking episode in the last two weeks; 25 percent of 12th-graders have

• 19 percent of 10th-graders have used marijuana in the past 30 days

• 9 percent of eighth-graders have used inhalants in the past 30 days

• 2 percent of eighth-graders have used cocaine in the past 30 days

• 12 percent of 10th-graders and 7 percent of 12th-graders have used narcotics in the past 30 days

• 4 percent of 10th-graders have used speed or uppers in the past 30 days

• 5 percent of 10th-graders and 4 percent of 12th-graders have used tranquilizers in the past 30 days

• 7 percent of eighth-graders and 5 percent of 10th-graders have used over-the-counter drugs to get high in the past 30 days.

Other surveys conducted in the community validate these numbers.

While it’s important to note that these aren’t “huge” numbers and a great many of our children have chosen to be drug- and alcohol-free, any drug or alcohol use by our kids should be a concern for the community.

Our school system cannot handle this issue alone. We must, as a community, stand beside the schools and the parents to fight these issues. We must be aware of the signs of drug and alcohol use and abuse by our kids and we must look out for the other kids in our lives.

There’s an old Indian proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child and that is such a true reflection of the input necessary to get our children safely to their adult years. There are so many negative influences on their lives that we must work especially hard to provide positive ones to counteract them.

There will be an assembly at 1 p.m. this Friday at the high school.

Students will be introduced to Coach D, a motivational speaker who gets down to the students’ level and speaks to them where they are. Please consider showing your support by being present at the assembly and by wearing red to show your support for the teens of Owen County.

You don’t have to say anything. Just be there, as a visible reminder that you care about the kids in this community. Remember this quote by Edward Everett Hale: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

You can make a difference in the life of a child.

Hope to see you there.

•••••

Patti Clark is the coordinator of the Owen County Teen Alcohol Prevention Project.