Students are taking the pledge this week to say no to drugs. The Red Ribbon Campaign is celebrated every October when individuals and groups are urged to demonstrate their personal commitment to a drug-free America by wearing and displaying red ribbons.
The campaign originated when drug traffickers murdered Federal Drug Enforcement Agent Enrique Camarena in 1985. The red ribbon became a symbol to eliminate the demand for drugs.
Students at Golden Hills Elementary School in Bellevue are among those taking part. “They can hurt our brain and kind of affect our future,” says Ethan Bergstrom.
“They're bad for your lungs and even if you breathe them in they're really bad for you,” says Hannah Rush.
“You can get really sick,” says Catherine Gernade. “Then when you get sick you have to go to the doctor's and it'll be a lot of money."
It's not only a lot of money to go to the doctor or to just buy alcohol or cigarettes, the new health care plans are more expensive for smokers. One Silver Plan is $205 a month for non-smokers and $337 per month for a smoker.
It's more than alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana that children have to deal with. Sixteen-year-old Codie Lingle of Glenwood, Iowa died in July after inhaling canned air. The substance killed Lingle immediately and there were no warning signs. Some stores won't sell the product to kids under 18, but that system is not foolproof.
Synthetic drugs like K2, spice, bath salts, energy drinks and prescription drugs are potential dangers. According to the CDC, over 41 people die in the United States every day due to prescription drug overdoses. Death by prescription painkillers has now surpassed the number of deaths from heroin and cocaine combined.
“It's really kind of scary to be honest with you,” says Golden Hills first-grade teacher Kelli Henry. “There's a lot of examples and there's a lot of stories from home or places that they've been to where they've seen things and they've heard things, so being able to educate them on proper ways to handle those situations is really important."
Tobacco is the most prevalent drug students have been exposed to. One said she successfully got her dad to stop smoking by continually offering him lollipops to persuade him to not reach for a cigarette. Another student said it was her persistent pleas with her grandfather.
“He was doing drugs and I told him not to, but he continued, so then when I kept telling him to stop he actually stopped and then he never did drugs again,” says Gernade.
While kids can be our best influence there’s still a lot of work to do. The most recent statistics, from 2011, show more than 16 percent of children in Nebraska have had more than a few sips of alcohol before the age of 13.
It’s never too early to start spreading the message. Supplies like a bib created in Omaha have been sent to 16 states helping kids as young as 2, 3 years old understand how our organs work and why healthy choices matter. It's all about capitalizing on those precious years of brain development. The program HALO, Healthy Alternatives for Little Ones, fosters feelings of self-worth and positive relationships for toddlers and pre-schoolers in helping to wire their brains to make better choices.
"The stress that kids experience as they grow older will be less because they've built this kind of strong foundation in their brain,” says Joanna Lindberg of Heartland Family Services. “It's really science, it's neuroscience and it's the most critical time. It's a window of opportunity that you never get back.”
HALO kits include flash cards to teach children terms like healthy versus harmful. One tip is to stick with healthy and harmful as opposed to good and bad or right and wrong.
Papillion-La Vista Schools are among those holding daily activities in conjunction with Red Ribbon Week. Among them are “team up against drugs" and "put a cap on drugs” when they wear their favorite team shirts and hats to school.
There's also “say boo to drugs and bullying” by wearing orange and black clothing, a "pink out" with pink apparel, a “black out drugs” with black duds and “put drugs to rest, don’t be a snoozer, stay drug-free" and “follow your dreams, don’t do drugs” allows students to wear pajamas to school. "Be bright, don’t start” and “are too bright for drugs” encourages the wearing of neon clothes.
Students will be allowed to wear sunglasses during recess to show others that “your future's so bright.” Clothing on backwards is to “turn their back on bullying and drugs.” Cowboy boots and western wear may be worn to “boot away drugs.” Students will wear red as they “red out drugs." Students will show they are “too smart to do drugs” by wearing outfits of their future job/career.
Students will show others to “stick out your neck and stay drug-free" with classroom doors having a large giraffe head and students will sign small giraffe heads pledging to be drug-free. Students don tie-dye clothing as they “say peace out to drugs.”
“Dare to show your pride” will bring out DARE T-shirts or the color red. Students may wear mismatched or red clothing to show others that “drugs and I don’t mix.”
"Sock it to drugs” allows the kids to wear wild and crazy socks and "stomp out drugs" adds mismatched shoes to the mix. Students will show others to “be a hero, not a zero” as they wear super hero clothing to class. Sweats will be worn to show that “being drug-free is no sweat.”
A drug-free pledge will be said after the Pledge of Allegiance and banners and posters will be signed promising to stay drug-free.