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Defense Department officials take aim at drug abuse

The national Red Ribbon Week is designed to raise public awareness of drug prevention programs.  DOD's Red Ribbon Week program also targets smoking and alcohol abuse in addition to drug abuse.  (U.S. Air Force graphic)

The national Red Ribbon Week is designed to raise public awareness of drug prevention programs. DOD's Red Ribbon Week program also targets smoking and alcohol abuse in addition to drug abuse. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- "Drug Free is the Key" for the Defense Department's Red Ribbon Week this year as it works to raise public awareness and mobilize communities to combat tobacco, alcohol and drug use among military personnel, civilians and families.

The observation of Red Ribbon Week begins Oct. 23 and continues through Oct. 31.

"Looking forward, there's a lot of challenges in front of us," Army Col. Ronald Shippee, director of the Drug Testing and Program Policy for Tricare Management Activity, told those gathered for the event's kickoff. "Right now one of the biggest problems we're facing is the abuse of prescription drugs. The whole country is facing this problem. We're not alone."

Colonel Shippee's program encompasses more than just drug testing, he said. "To run a successful program, it's got to be drug testing, education, prevention."

Colonel Shippee has seen the affects of substance abuse on the military. He was assigned to a unit in Vietnam affected by drug abuse, but didn't realize how pervasive the problem was until he got to the U.S. Army War College.

"At the War College in Carlyle (Pa.), they'll tell you that was a near-death experience for the U.S. Army," Colonel Shippee said. "In '73, (the department) had an amnesty program; 16,000 guys came forward with a heroin problem."

Today, there's a threat of a repeat of the heroin problem as servicemembers fight in Afghanistan, Colonel Shippee said. The country's main crop is the opium poppy, from which heroin is produced.

"We're in Afghanistan where there's heroin everywhere," he said. "We've taken an extremely aggressive approach. We now screen every (fluid sample) for heroin.

"We do 4-and-a-half million tests a year," he added. "The operative term in our program is deterrence. We know we don't catch everybody with deterrence. That only comes from an aggressive drug-testing program and an education and a treatment (program)."

The message may not be getting out as strongly as it needs to overall, said Peggy Sapp, National Family Partnership president. Though casual drug use in America dropped by half from 1980 until 1991, it's inching back up.

"The grassroots, the people who really have to deliver the message, maybe don't really have the message as strongly," Ms. Sapp said during the kickoff. "We have a lot of work to do. The fight is not over."

The National Family Partnership created Red Ribbon Week in 1988 as a way to honor Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Enrique "Kiki" S. Camarena, who was kidnapped and murdered by drug traffickers in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The Defense Department officially has participated in Red Ribbon Week since 1990. It's also a chance to recognize department entities that promote the anti-substance abuse message.

DOD officials presented the 19th Annual Secretary of Defense Community Drug Awareness Award to six units and agencies. The award recognizes those with the best programs for reducing the demand for drugs. The awards went to:

-- Tyndall Air Force Base Drug Demand Reduction Program, 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.;

-- Stuttgart Army Substance Abuse Program, U.S. Army Garrison, Stuttgart, Germany;

-- Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Drug Demand Reduction Campaign, Camp Pendleton, Calif.;

-- Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek Drug Education for Youth, Norfolk, Va.;

-- Alabama National Guard Counterdrug Program, Drug Demand Reduction, Montgomery, Ala.; and

-- National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Drug Demand Reduction Program.

The 2009 Secretary of Defense Fulcrum Shield Award, which recognizes the best youth-based programs affiliated with a U.S. military service, defense agency or the National Guard, went to the Tehama County Young Marines of Red Bluff, Calif.

Red Ribbon Week also is a chance for DOD officials to highlight programs that are important for the military and defense agencies throughout the year and to extend their outreach.

The programs are in place for servicemembers, as well as their families. Tricare officials urge beneficiaries dealing with substance abuse issues, their own or those of a loved one, to take advantage of the many available options to treat substance abuse and disorders, according to a Red Ribbon Week news release. Services include detoxification, rehabilitation and outpatient group and family therapy.

Some of the programs include the award-winning "Quit Tobacco. Make Everyone Proud" smoking cessation campaign. Users can develop a personalized plan for quitting, play games, listen to podcasts, connect to online cessation programs and chat with a trained cessation counselor seven days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST.

"That Guy," is another program targeting 18 to 24-year-old servicemembers. It highlights social disapproval of excessive drinking by featuring embarrassing consequences.

More information about Red Ribbon Week and the drug demand reduction programs offered by the department and Tricare can be found on the Red Ribbon Week Web site.