Students: Red Ribbon Week deters drug use

High school students say there is plenty of drug use, especially marijuana and alcohol, among teens in the Bi-City.

They also say Red Ribbon Week activities help keep some teens out of trouble and get a few users to change their lifestyle.

"It really brings the drug problem to light," Hardaway's Luke Kozarski said. "It brings awareness about the negative side of getting high."

In Phenix City, Central High's Ben McGarr said what is most effective during the time is when police officers talk about they've seen and when a young person gives testimony about how drug abuse has damaged his or her life.

"You are face to face with these people. You hear these stories and you know you don't want to go down the same path. It wakes you up," McGarr said.

Speakers often come from Teen Challenge International's adolescent girls program in Seale, Ala., a Christian boarding school providing a 15-month education, counseling and training program for girls ages 13 to 17 who have life-controlling problems and have entered into a destructive lifestyle. Girls spoken to there say that the students become very attentive when they tell their stories and have a lot of questions.

Red Ribbon Week is not all doom and gloom at the schools. Both Hardaway and Central have special days when students are encouraged to wear a favorite hat or sports jersey. Central also had a pajama day, while Hardaway had a day for crazy socks.

"We put up a banner for people to sign pledging to stay drug free," Hardaway's Jeniah Johnson said.

The teens said the big challenge for Red Ribbon Week is to undo what teens see in the media.

"Music, television, movies, all make using drugs look fun and don't show the down side," Central's Kalah Ozimba said. "It is really overpowering. It looks like the thing to do and the way to be popular."

Because using drugs looks trendy, the teens say there is much peer pressure to be a user. They are offered something at practically every party they attend. Alcohol may just be sitting on a counter.

"You don't want to be the one who stands out," Central's Charles Baker said.

John Doheny III, a professional drug counselor in Columbus, said when he hears teens who are abusing drugs talk about peer pressure, he tells them to "find other peers," to choose other friends.

"It's not that simple," Ozimba said. "There are people I've grown up with. I'm not going to leave them behind. I love the good in them."

She will not preach to those who are using drugs. "I don't want to give any sermons," Ozimba said. "I don't want to look like I am judging them."

"I don't want someone to feel that I think I am better than they are, that I am superior," Baker said.

"It is a fine line between trying to help someone and coming across as superior," McGarr said.

Baker and Tristan Griffis at Hardaway both said some users like to brag about their drug use.

"Somebody will say 'Guess what we did this weekend. We went out and smoked weed.' They're proud," Baker said.

Asked about anti-drug advertising, the teens said they take notice but often a billboard, even a graphic one, just becomes part of the scenery after awhile. Nothing works like Red Ribbon Week.

"There should be more than one Red Ribbon Week a year," Baker said. "Students need to keep being reminded of the dangers of drug abuse."