Thank you Administrator Leonhart for your kind introduction and for inviting me to join you here today. It is truly an honor to be here with you to celebrate the potential of living a drug-free life.
I also want to express my thanks to those across the Drug Enforcement Administration who helped organize this year’s Red Ribbon Week and today’s Ceremony, and to each one of you for your attendance and participation. Through your hard work – and through your collaboration with some wonderful state, local, and private partners – you are ensuring that an important reminder is being sent to millions of Americans about the dangers of drug abuse and the importance of living a drug-free lifestyle.
The National Red Ribbon Campaign is our nation’s largest and oldest drug prevention effort. As you all know, it grew out of the tragic murder of DEA Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. The Campaign honors Agent Camarena, who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to his country. It also is a celebration -- a celebration of his talents and abilities, of his efforts to investigate some of the most dangerous drug traffickers of his time, and of how, through our efforts today to take a stand against the destructive effects of drug abuse, we are together honoring his sacrifice. Like thousands of other law enforcement professionals, some of whom also have given their lives in this fight, Special Agent Camarena understood the importance of educating our youth about the dangers of drugs and of preventing drug use before it starts.
Why is this sort of outreach, this education, so critically important? Because we have seen the devastation caused by drug abuse. We have seen the toll it takes on our communities, and we have seen the damage it causes to children, who are among the most vulnerable among us. Over nine million children – almost 13 percent of all children in the United States – live in a household where a parent or other adult uses, manufactures, or distributes illicit drugs. In 81 percent of the reported cases of child abuse and neglect, substance abuse is rated as either the worst or second worst problem in the home. And without intervention, drug endangered children are more likely themselves to be arrested as juveniles.
Because of this, it is critical not only that we rely on our enforcement efforts, but also that we strive to increase awareness and foster early interventions. To that end, in response to the Administration’s 2010 National Drug Control Strategy, the Department established the Federal Interagency Task Force on Drug Endangered Children. It has been my honor to chair this important task force, which benefits from active participation by the DEA and other components within the Department of Justice, as well the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Homeland Security, Transportation, and Interior.
Since 2010, the Drug Endangered Children Task Force has led a public awareness campaign that emphasizes the important role that law enforcement officials, health professionals, children’s advocates, child welfare professionals, educators and community leaders all play in protecting our nation’s most vulnerable and in responding to their needs and those of their caregivers. Among other resources, the Task Force developed a website about drug endangered children, and a toolkit – including first-responder checklists and other valuable tools – to assist professionals confronted with drug endangered children.
As important as it is to educate law enforcement, social workers, teachers, nurses, paramedics, and others in the communities about what can be done to help vulnerable children, we must be equally committed to educating the children themselves about the dangers of drug abuse. Both approaches, together, are needed to help our communities and our children. Protecting those among us who need our help most is a key priority for the Department of Justice. This is why Red Ribbon Week is so vitally important.
By hosting Red Ribbon events all across the country, the DEA preserves the memory of Special Agent Kiki Camarena and others like him who gave their life to further the cause we all believe in. By educating our children through campaigns like Red Ribbon, we teach them about the damage drugs can cause. Our children will carry that knowledge with them when they will have to make choices for themselves about drug use. It will guide them when, later in life, they confront illegal drug use by their peers, or are called upon to help a loved one struggling with addiction. Our work this week will pay dividends for years to come.
Like Special Agent Kiki Camarena, one person can and does make a difference. By joining me in wearing a red ribbon and gathering here today, and by celebrating Red Ribbon Week, you are helping make that difference. Thank you for all you do today and every day in the fight against drug abuse and addiction.