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Rep. Darryl Rouson shares personal story to help start annual Red Ribbon Week

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Drug czar Gil Kerlikowske shared his views on the importance of treatment for drug addicts — while state Rep. Darryl Rouson shared his story of addiction and recovery — during a kick-off breakfast for the yearly Red Ribbon Week drug prevention program. Read the rest of this story after the jump.
Arrests and draconian sentencing laws alone aren’t helping the country win the war on drugs, America’s drug czar told a group of community leaders.

“Treatment and prevention can be half the cost of incarceration,” said Gil Kerlikowske, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “You can’t arrest your way out of the problem.”

Kerlikowske, former Seattle police chief, spoke Monday at a breakfast at South Miami Hospital to kick off the 24th annual Red Ribbon Week drug awareness and prevention campaign.

“Prevention is key, and parents are the No. 1 preventive,” said Peggy Sapp, president of the National Family Partnership, founded in 1980 to teach parents how to guide their children into a healthy lifestyle free of chemical dependence.

Sapp also heads Informed Families, the national organization’s Florida partner.

A December 2008 study from the University of Michigan found that, among high school seniors, more than 65 percent reported using alcohol and more than 32 percent reported using marijuana in the previous year.

South Miami Hospital CEO Javier Hernandez-Lichtl said underage drinkers — and the trouble they get into while under the influence — cost Florida about $3 billion a year. The National Family Partnership reports that every day more than 3,000 kids start getting high on prescription painkillers, sedatives and stimulants.

Red Ribbon Week, the nation’s longest-running anti-drug campaign, began in 1985, after undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena was abducted and tortured to death by the Mexican drug cartel he was trying to bust.

Over the next month scores of South Florida schools, often in partnership with the group Drug-Free Youth in Town, will prepare activities to celebrate Red Ribbon Week, usually observed in late October.

At Monday’s breakfast, state Rep. Darryl Rouson shared his personal story of addictionand recovery, telling how he went from the floor of a crack house to the floor of the State House.

“I had a good family, good values, a good education, but I had low self-esteem and the need to medicate,” said Rouson, who was addicted to alcohol and crack cocaine.

Fighting addiction wasn’t easy. Rouson said he went to eight rehab programs before he was “ready to stand up and be a man.”

Eventually he went on to become the first black prosecutor in Pinellas County. He has also chaired the National Bar Association’s Substance Abuse and Addictions Task Force and sponsored legislation that stiffened drug-paraphernalia laws in Pinellas.

The upcoming Red Ribbon celebration aims to keep kids from having to experience the difficulties Rouson faced, Sapp said.

“Ours is a universal message. You can’t stop at ‘Just Say No’; you have to teach them how to do that,” she added. “It takes parents and schools.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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