The primary goal of Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) is to teach effective peer resistance and refusal skills so that adolescents can say “no” to drugs and their friends who may want them to use drugs. The secondary goals of the program are to build students’ social skills and enhance their self-esteem, as these are believed to be linked to adolescent drug use.
DARE was developed in 1983 as a joint effort between the Los Angeles County (Calif.) School District and the Los Angeles Police Department. In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to promote drug abuse education and prevention programs across the country, and DARE spread rapidly, with many school districts adopting it for their students. By 1994, DARE was the most widely used school-based drug prevention program, showing up in all 50 states in the United States and spreading to six foreign countries.
DARE was initially designed for elementary school students, specifically fifth and sixth graders. Over the years, it has developed curriculum aimed at middle and high school students. The early focus of the program was to inoculate or strengthen children to resist the temptation of drug experimentation and the pressure of peers who want them to engage in drug use.
There are numerous studies that have churned out results that don’t support the program as a drug abuse deterrent. The results of more than 30 such studies note that D.A.R.E. didn’t serve to deter students from using drugs in the short-term, nor when they reached their high school or college years. Citing minimal effects on drug use, one study noted a decreased likelihood of utilizing learned curricula from the program over time. In 1994, the first study of its kind pointed out only scant benefits when it came to short-term decreases in D.A.R.E. students’ use of tobacco, but marijuana and alcohol use did not decrease.
When it comes to marijuana specifically, 5.8 percent of 8th graders, 13.8 percent of 10th graders, and 19.4 percent of seniors were using it in 2008. Just five years later, those figures increased to 7 percent, 18 percent, and 22.7 percent.
Another study produced alarming results with D.A.R.E students showing a 29 percent increase in drug use and 34 percent increase in tobacco use.Perhaps one of the most disheartening studies completed on the D.A.R.E. program was one that spanned more than a decade. Participants filled out a survey on their substance use when they were 10 years old and again when they were 20 years old. Those who completed D.A.R.E. were no less likely to smoke cannabis or tobacco, drink alcohol, use illicit drugs, or succumb to peer pressure than their non-D.A.R.E. peers. Even more worrisome, those who did participate in the program correlated with a high incidence of low self-esteem later in life.
Room for сhange
There is an opportunity for the D.A.R.E. program to continue growing under its new format. That being said, the changes that are made should be tailored toward educating children on real issues they’ll actually face in their young lives. Some have questioned whether mental health information should be passed on to students during their D.A.R.E. experience. While around half of all individuals with severe mental illness also have substance abuse issues, the likelihood of children of young ages being prepared for or able to comprehend such isn’t high.
Thus, such information is better reserved for older students, which brings forth the development of reaching out to students in higher grades in the Keepin’ in REAL version. Nonetheless, this information isn’t covered in the new program format either. Despite the new name, it seems reality may be exactly what has been and continues to be lacking from drug education.
Of every 10 children, one is suffering from some sort of emotional disturbance. Among 15-24 year olds, the third leading cause of death is suicide. In addition, a 2007 survey noted that 6.9 percent of high school students surveyed tried to commit suicide in the prior year, and 14.5 percent seriously thought about doing it.
Overall, the Keepin’ it REAL program is now likely effective enough to warrant its continuation based on the potential for an increase of drug abuse among youths without it. While certain organizations and individuals will always be quick to point out the $1 billion to over $2 billion expense that the program presents, and recent reviews tout the new program’s efficacy just as much, it’s hard to argue that drug abuse prevention tactics aren’t one of the best ways the government could spend federal and state funds. Furthermore, a variety of factors contribute to whether or not an individual engages in substance abuse or becomes an addict. It would be impossible to pinpoint such an event in a person’s life solely upon whether or not they ever participated in a D.A.R.E. program.
Moving into the Future
D.A.R.E. is now beginning to find itself in a growing number of schools, though it’s not the same program of yesteryear. The new program has more input from behavioral prevention specialists rather than mostly law enforcement and focuses on good decision-making and responsibility. “It’s not an anti-drug program,” Michelle Miller-Day, co-developer of the new curriculum, told Scientific American. “It’s about things like being honest and safe and responsible.” The new program has adopted the “keepin’ it REAL” approach (Refuse, Explain, Avoid, Leave) with police officers working in role-playing activities with students.
“The core of the curriculum has stayed the same,” Sgt. Scott Staggs, an officer in the Nashville, Tennessee, area told WKRN news. “D.A.R.E. has really tried to keep up with the times about changing things that are going on.” The state will have 130 officers in public schools this school year, educating kids on a new prevention program that focuses on the dangers of opioid use.
“Our program, the research has said, is to go to decision-making,” Lloyd Bratz, D.A.R.E.’s regional program director, explained. “Are the kids making a good decision regarding whatever it is? Alcohol, tobacco, drugs, marijuana, opioids, whatever it may be.”
Studies have shown the altered program’s approach can both prevent kids from trying drugs and improve the chances of those who have already tried drugs from not using them again in the future.
Alternatives to D.A.R.E.
Today, there are other options. Life Skills Training Program and Project ALERT both focus on resistance strategies and reasons to abstain from drug and alcohol use. The former targets students aged 10 to 14, while the latter focuses solely on the middle school years. The Strengthening Families Program is strictly geared toward preventing substance abuse in six to 12 year old children who live in substance-abusing households.
Drug addiction and alcoholism continue to sweep the nation every year. In 2009, some 23.5 million people needed professional help with a substance abuse problem, despite only 2.6 million of them getting it. Without a new approach, it is difficult to say whether increased exposure to D.A.R.E. later in life or any other intervention will help. Over time, the statistics will speak for themselves.