Red Ribbon Week Toolkit

This is a free toolkit created to give all those engaged in youth drug prevention effective strategies, activities, and ideas to implement during Red Ribbon Week that are based on prevention science and research to help reduce youth substance use.

Why use this kit?

  • Prevent Drug Use: Activities in the toolkit steer kids away from using drugs through evidence-based prevention activities.
  • Promote Healthy Behaviors: Activities in this toolkit promote mental health and increase family bonding, community connection, healthy relationships, personal development and resiliency, all while having fun!
  • Free and Flexible: This toolkit, crafted by a multi-disciplinary team, is completely free to use and adapt throughout the year.

History of Red Ribbon Week

In 1985, DEA Agent Enrique Camarena was murdered. In response, angered parents and youth in communities across the country began wearing Red Ribbons as a symbol of their commitment to raise awareness of the killing and destruction caused by drugs in America. Today, the Red Ribbon serves as a catalyst to mobilize communities to educate youth and encourage participation in prevention activities to keep our kids substance-free.

Prevention Science

In many schools, Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) plan Red Ribbon Week activities. Many parents are not prevention professionals and turn to Pinterest or Google for ideas. This toolkit was designed by prevention specialists in collaboration with Utah PTA for EVERY school and EVERY child here in Utah. Good intentions are not enough for selecting and implementing prevention strategies. Our hope is that every school/PTA will use the knowledge of what works so we can protect students from drug use and addiction and use our time wisely in implementing the most effective campaigns. Prevention science has come a long way in the ability to actually reduce substance use. We’ve learned the hard way about what works and what doesn’t.

What doesn’t work?

Youth drug prevention has moved far beyond “Just Say No” and “This is Your Brain on Drugs” campaigns. Some activities may seem like a good idea on the surface but have the potential of causing harm. Fear based activities, one-time events, or assemblies may seem like good ideas to help educate young people on the harms of drug use and dangers of addiction. However, prevention science shows us that oftentimes these types of activities can be ineffective. For more information about scare tactics, visit

What works?

Effective prevention strategies for youth should focus on activities that build social competence, self-regulation, and academic skills. Efforts should focus on developing self-control, emotional awareness, communication, relationships, social problem-solving and academic support among students.

Effective youth drug prevention takes place in every domain: The community, schools, within families, and among individual and peers. Prevention that is targeted through these four domains works to connect youth to prosocial activities and build age appropriate skills that can be relied on when faced with negative pressures and risks around drugs and alcohol.

Instructions for Implementation

This toolkit is meant to be a helpful guide when planning Red Ribbon Week activities. Included in this kit are ways that adults can engage students in effective drug prevention messaging and activities that are based on prevention science and research. The categories and themes are meant to be guides in assisting adults to develop activities during Red Ribbon Week that will target their individual communities, schools, and students as needed. Activities are separated out by ages (elementary, secondary, or both) and include instructions, templates, and resources needed for implementation. Feel free to adjust activities and themes as needed.

Comments or Questions?