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Calvert celebrates national Red Ribbon Week

By KATIE FITZPATRICK

Staff writer

Calvert County is participating in a national campaign, which begins next week, to help raise awareness to the dangers of alcohol and other drugs.

Red Ribbon Week always is held Oct. 23 through 31, and this year, the campaign’s theme is “A Healthy Me is Drug Free.” The week is held as a way for people and communities to unite and take a visible stand against drugs, according to a press release from the Calvert Alliance Against Substance Abuse.

The campaign was started in 1986 after Drug Enforcement Administration agent Kiki Camarena was murdered by drug traffickers in Mexico City in 1985, CAASA coordinator Candice D’Agostino said. At Camarena’s funeral, D’Agostino said, attendees wore red ribbons, thus beginning a tradition of displaying red ribbons as a symbol of intolerance toward the use of drugs and as a way to reinforce the commitment communities need to make to be drug free.

D’Agostino said Calvert has been participating in the campaign week since the early 1990s, and area schools, churches and neighborhoods contribute by presenting several activities and events.

On Wednesday, Oct. 23, Neighborhood Watch communities are showing support by attaching a red ribbon to their community’s entrance sign or neighborhood watch sign, D’Agostino said. Calvert County Government employees also will start wearing red ribbons Wednesday, she said.

“On that day, various county departments and agencies will be wearing red ribbons to show their commitment to a drug-free lifestyle,” D’Agostino said.

Various churches and church groups throughout the county will talk during the campaign week about substance abuse to educate congregations about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, she said.

Calvert County Public Schools is participating in the campaign and is hosting its awareness events Monday, Oct. 21, through Friday, Oct. 25.

“Basically, it’s a campaign that will let the kids share what they do to keep them from using drugs and alcohol,” D’Agostino said. “They may sing. They may dance. They may be in the school band, but they’ll share what they do to keep them [on] the right path.”

At Plum Point Middle School, counselor Heidi Jarman said that during that week, “the whole school will be decked out in red” Monday; students will be “teaming up against drugs” and will be allowed to wear sports jerseys to school Tuesday; and students will be “putting a cap on drugs” and will be able to wear hats to school Wednesday.

Thursday is Plum Point’s “big day,” Jarman said, with the theme of “focus on your future.” Students are encouraged to wear shirts from a college or university, she said, and Calvert County Sheriff’s Office deputies will make a presentation. Jarman said during lunch that day, CAASA representatives also will talk to the students.

Friday is the school’s “mix and match” day, Jarman said, to remind students to not “get mixed up with drugs and alcohol.” Each student will be asked to write a one-page essay describing how they plan on staying away from drugs and alcohol, Jarman said. Those essays will be entered into a contest, and two essays will be picked as winners, she said, and the winning students will have an opportunity to choose from prizes, which include a bike and a helmet, an iPod Nano and an Amazon Kindle.

Jarman said it is important to educate students at an early age about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

“A lot of kids will try and experiment at an early age, and if we can reach them now, we can save them,” she said.

D’Agostino said the “most important thing” about the week is that it provides an opportunity for parents and guardians to talk to their children about alcohol and drugs.

“Kids are going to be bringing home red ribbons. They’re going to be talking about activities they’ve done in school, so it’s the perfect moment for [parents and guardians] to talk to their kids about substance abuse issues,” she said. “The door is open — step in and have the talk. I think it’s a great time to do that.”

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, county residents can drop off expired or unused medications as part of the DEA Drug Take Back Day, D’Agostino said, at the Maryland State Police Prince Frederick barrack; the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office in Prince Frederick; the Northeast Community Center in Chesapeake Beach; the Mt. Hope Community Center in Owings; and Southern Community Center in Lusby.

Sheriff Mike Evans (R) said it is important for law enforcement every day to try to get unused and old prescriptions off the streets to be properly destroyed, which is why the drop boxes were set up at the sheriff’s office and the MSP barrack.

“This is a nationwide campaign to get people’s attention. We give several locations where you can take all unused prescriptions so we can destroy them,” Evans said. “It’s important people know we do this all the time, but this is a special day you can help us get the unused drugs off the streets.”

First Sgt. Shane Bolger, acting commander of the MSP barrack, also said it is important that unwanted, old prescriptions are taken to places where they can be properly disposed of “as opposed to falling into the hands of our youth or people that will abuse it,” as a way of combating the growing prescription drug problem in the county.

“I hope that we recover a good number of outdated, excess prescription drug medication that could be potentially abused, and possibly prevent any type of overdoses or deaths,” Bolger said.

kfitzpatrick@somdnews.com