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Utah County may be closer to being drug- and violence-free than some other counties across the country. But that's not stopping local leaders from trying to eliminate both problems once and for all.

Members of the Utah County Commission have declared the week as Ribbon Week in Utah County. During the week, residents are encouraged to wear red or purple ribbons or articles of clothing and pledge that they will remain drug- and violence-free.A coalition of national and local organizations, including the National Federation of Parents, the Utah Federation for Youth, all the local school districts and the Utah County Human Services Department's Bureau of Prevention, are sponsoring events during the week, such as a "Natural High" carnival on Wednesday.

"We are very blessed in this county to not have as many problems as they do elsewhere," Commission Chairman Gary Herbert said as he and other commissioners signed the Ribbon Week proclamation. "But with what we're doing here we'll set the tone for the rest of the world."

The thinking behind the week and events is to call people to action, since alcohol and other drug use and violence has reached epidemic stages - and because members of the 15- to 24-year-old age group are dying faster than any other age group, said Donna Callahan, prevention specialist with the County Human Services department.

Red ribbons pay tribute to Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena, who was killed by drug dealers 10 years ago, while purple ribbons signify more recent efforts for violence prevention. Though most of the Utah County events center around drug-free efforts, local leaders are attempting to make their prevention efforts more comprehensive.

"We are delivering a message of hope to the millions of kids who face the realities of drug abuse every day," Callahan said. "We believe that if you are doing effective substance abuse programs you are also preventing a variety of other high-risk problem behaviors, including violence."

During the ceremony, commissioners also honored Orem Junior High School, which received recognition as national "Safe and Drug-Free School" last year; Burke Austin, whose Eagle Scout project provided transportation for mentally disabled students at Timpview High School; and the entire student body at Farrer Middle School, which pledged to be violence- and drug-free as part of an Army National Guard bike-a-thon.



Ribbon Week events

- Reach Out Day: Tuesday, Oct. 24. Residents are encouraged to reach out and serve by promoting safe and drug-free activities in their neighborhoods.

- Wear Red and Purple Day: Wednesday, Oct. 25. Residents are encouraged to wear red or purple ribbons or articles of clothing to symbolize their commitment to a safe and drug-free lifestyle.

- "Natural High" Carnival: Wednesday, Oct. 25, 4 to 9 p.m., Utah Valley State College. Includes wall climbing, juggling, face painting and other events.

- Pledge Day: Thursday, Oct. 26. Residents are encouraged to pledge to their families, parents, children and neighborhoods to remain violence- and drug-free.

- Utah Valley Conference on Gang Issues: Friday, Oct. 27, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Utah Valley State College. Cost: $42.

- Make a Difference Day: Saturday, Oct. 28. Residents are encouraged to participate in community service opportunities.