Schoolchildren in many parts of Utah - and many adults as well - are taking part in activities this week designed to emphasize the dangers of drugs. There are programs and lessons, games and eye-catching stunts. Students across the state are tying red ribbons across the front of their school buildings as a symbol of saying "no" to drugs.

All of this is in connection with National Red Ribbon Week through Oct. 29. The campaign was started in 1985 in response to the murder of an American narcotics agent by Mexican drug traffickers.The red ribbon has become the symbol of America's battle against drugs. The ribbons are being worn by teachers and students, by high school football teams, by police and by private citizens. The ribbons can be seen fluttering from trees and lamp posts. Official banners proclaiming Red Ribbon Week can be seen on utility poles in downtown Salt Lake City.

Using schools to carry the drug message should be an effective way to proceed since most of today's drug problems begin with teens or even younger. Experts say education about drugs must be taught long before children reach age 10.

More than 13,500 Utah students have been identified as having drug problems. Undoubtedly many other youngsters with drug problems have not been identifield. A 1989 study showed that 1.1 percent of Utah schoolchildren in seventh to 12 grades had used cocaine the previous week.

But prevention and education measures do work. A similar study in 1984 showed 3.7 percent had used cocaine the previous week. The 1989 figures represent a significant and encouraging decline.

Clearly, prevention is the best method, far more effective than costly and uncertain rehabilitation. Red Ribbon Week is a concept that must be extended so drug prevention awareness lasts all year.