Why do people tie red ribbons around trees?

red ribbon image by Alison Bowden from Fotolia.com

Residents of any town in America who see a red ribbon tied around a tree in October may not be aware of what it symbolises. Red ribbons, since 1985, have been used to show support for the need of drug prevention programs, drug laws, and drug treatment services. Red ribbons may be located during National Red Ribbon Week on more than just trees, as our nation's war against drugs continues to march forward.

Early History

In 1985, a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent by the name of Enrique Camarena was killed in the line of duty while working undercover in the city of Guadalajara, Mexico. In 1986, residents of Calexico, California began to wear red ribbons in order to bring attention to the negative impact illegal drugs had made in the community, as well as in the country. The red ribbons were also worn as an effort to reduce the amount of illegal drugs being used, and the amount of legal drugs being used illegally. In 1986, the California State PTA adopted the Red Ribbon Week campaign and, two years later, President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan served as the first Honorary Chairs of National Red Ribbon Week. Those who participated began tying red ribbons around trees in order to bring awareness to illegal drug problems.


The red ribbon tied around a tree during National Red Ribbon Week is intended to bring awareness to numerous drug, alcohol, and tobacco related issues. For example, the red ribbons symbolise the need for both treatment services and early intervention programs for those addicted to drugs, both legal and illegal. The red ribbons also raise awareness for the need of violence prevention programs associated with alcohol and drug abuse. As of 2010, National Red Ribbon Week remains the most visible and largest prevention awareness campaign in the United States that is held on an annual basis, bringing more than 80 million people together throughout the country according to the National Family Partnership (NFP).

Seeing Red

During National Red Ribbon Week, which takes place every October, participants are not limited to only tying red ribbons around trees in order to bring attention to the need for drug prevention programs and drug-free communities. For example, red ribbons may also be worn on an individuals body, are tied around mailboxes, attached to office buildings, lampposts, front doors, and automobiles. Law officials and emergency response teams, such as police and fire fighters, also attach red ribbons to their vehicles. The website drugsrdumb.com has a list of activity ideas a community may partake in to honour the memory of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena and to further the fight against illegal drug use across America.

Most recent