NORWICH — Eighth-graders at Kelly Middle School got a kick-start to their Monday morning by joining three large, furry friends at a loud anti-drug rally in the school’s auditorium.

The special guests at the Red Ribbon Week rally included Chester, the Young Marines puppy bulldog mascot, D.A.R.E. mascot Daren the Lion, and Hunter, the mascot of the New England Black Wolves professional lacrosse team, based at Mohegan Sun.

The drug prevention rally was organized by the Three Rivers unit of the Young Marines, a youth service group for boys and girls age 8 and older.

The students made sure to make lots of noise when Three Rivers unit commander Patrick McMahon introduced the mascots, who hung out in the auditorium seats with the students and ran up and down the aisles, high-fiving them.

“We’re seeing more and more problems with use of prescription drugs,” McMahon told the children. “And now we’re seeing more abuse of heroin, even with kids your age.”

McMahon showed the students a short video about how five so-called “gateway drugs,” like marijuana, can lead to abuse of stronger narcotics.

National Red Ribbon Week, Oct. 23-31, was established in memory of DEA Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, who had come close to exposing the top leaders of a multi-billion dollar drug pipeline. He was abducted and brutally murdered in 1985 at the age of 37.

“He was doing what he thought needed to be done. He had a family and was just trying to make a difference,” McMahon said. “You know that. You have teachers here that make a difference.”

Sponsored by the National Family Partnership, Red Ribbon Week is the oldest and largest drug prevention program in the nation.

This article by Ryan Blessing was originally published on The Norwich Bulletin.

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