A Hero is our Anti-Drug

Red Ribbon Week describes one man’s pursuit

Red posters, pins and signs—even the kid in a blood drop costume greeting people around the school—are all indicators that Red Ribbon Week has begun. However, while most people are familiar with the idea of Red Ribbon Week, they don’t know about the important history behind the week—the story of Enriqué “Kiki” Camarena.

Special Agent Camarena was an eleven-year veteran of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Camarena was assigned to the Guadalajara, Mexico office where he followed the country’s biggest marijuana and cocaine traffickers.

In 1985, Camarena was only hours away from discovering a multi-billion dollar drug pipeline before he was murdered. He was kidnapped and brutally tortured to death by the drug traffickers to prevent him from revealing any information.

In the hopes that his message is never forgotten, Congressman Duncan Hunter and Camarena’s high school friend Henry Lozano created “Camarena Clubs”. Members of the club pledged to lead drug-free lives to honor the sacrifice made by Camarena. First Lady Nancy Reagan received the pledges at a national conference of parents combating youth drug use. Several state parent organizations then addressed the community and asked them to wear red during the last week of October to symbolize the fight against drugs. The first Red Ribbon Week celebrations were held in our very own state in La Mirada and Norwalk, California. Finally, in 1988 the National Family Partnership (NFP) coordinated the first National Red Ribbon Week with President and Mrs. Reagan serving as honorary chairpersons.

Currently, Red Ribbon Week is the nation’s largest drug prevention program. The NFP estimates that more than 80 million people participate in Red Ribbon events each year. The DEA joins with community coalitions and prevention groups to plan and carry out Red Ribbon activities, ranging from classroom events to stadium-sized rallies. Schools, businesses, the faith community, media, families, and community coalitions join together to celebrate Red Ribbon Week in many ways, such as: sponsoring essay and poster contests; organizing drug-free races; decorating buildings in red; handing out red ribbons to customers; holding parades or community events; and by publicizing the value of a drug-free, healthy lifestyle. Kiki’s tragic death opened the eyes of many Americans to the dangers of drugs and the international scope of the drug trade.