Drug use by our youth is a problem that cries out for commitment, diligence, and honesty by school administrators and elected officials. Instead, for far too long, our drug-prevention policies have been driven by mindless adherence to a wasteful, ineffective, feel-good program, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE). DARE has been a huge public-relations success, but a failure at accomplishing the goal of long-term drug-abuse prevention.
Before taxpayers? money is spent for drug prevention, any program receiving the funds should prove its worth. Our school administrators and elected leaders should insist on no less. However, with DARE, the money - as well as the crucial opportunities to implement programs that actually work - has been blown.
In a recent guest column appearing in this newspaper, Glenn Levant, the president of DARE America, stated that "DARE has become the most successful drug abuse and violence reduction program in the nation . . ." He is accurate, but only if "success" is based on the amount of tax and foundation money spent on a program or the number of schools that have used the program. However, if "success" is based on the effectiveness of a program in reaching the goal of reduced drug abuse over the long-term, DARE has been a dismal failure, according to numerous published studies.
- In a Kokomo, Indiana study, researchers found that the level of drug use among DARE graduates was almost identical to the usage among non-DARE students. The only statistically meaningful difference was that more DARE students reported recent use of marijuana than those who had not been through the DARE program.
- The Department of Justice commissioned The Research Triangle Institute (RTI) to evaluate DARE. Its published findings reflect that DARE students use more marijuana than non-DARE students. The RTI concluded that DARE's core-curriculum effect on the use of other drugs, except tobacco, is not statistically significant. According to the RTI, DARE might very well be taking the place of other, more beneficial, drug-prevention programs that adolescents otherwise could be receiving.
- When the City of Oakland decided to dump DARE after spending more than $600,000 per year, the director of Oakland's Family Council on Drug Awareness noted, "The bottom line is that D.A.R.E. is an expensive program that seems to be making the situation worse."
- In the longest follow-up study conducted regarding the effectiveness of DARE, the results of which were published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, the researchers noted that "[t]he widespread popularity of DARE is especially noteworthy, given the lack of evidence for its efficacy." They repeated the findings of many other researchers: "[T]he preponderance of evidence suggests that DARE has no long-term effect on drug use."
After it became apparent I was going to terminate Salt Lake City's involvement in the DARE program, several people came to complain at the City Council meeting on July 11. Among them were the Director of DARE for the State of Utah, officers of the Utah Council for Crime Prevention, several DARE officers, and a member of the Salt Lake City School Board. Although they all spoke passionately for the continuation of DARE, not one of them made reference to any research published in a peer-reviewed journal demonstrating the effectiveness of DARE. In fact, the Salt Lake City School Board member said she was "appalled" because I provided my research to the School Board, yet she failed to mention any research to support her apparently intuitive notion that DARE accomplishes its objective.
Drug prevention is too important to be left to those who refuse to become familiar with the research - or with the availability of other programs that have been proven to work. The DARE program, and those who have advocated it to the exclusion of effective programs, should be held accountable to the public. Most importantly, our community should demand that our schools replace DARE with research-based programs that will help us attain our goal of significantly reduced drug abuse among our youth. Among those programs are Life Skills Training (LST), Students Taught Awareness and Resistance (STAR), and Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids (ATLAS). I have provided information concerning these programs and their effectiveness to the Salt Lake City School Board.
Our common goal is to cut drug abuse among our youth. A means of helping to accomplish that goal is to implement in our schools drug-prevention programs that actually work. Those who fail to insist on effective drug-prevention programs in our schools are betraying our youth and our community. And those who are unfamiliar with the research and insist on retaining DARE in our schools simply because it is a "popular" program are not part of the drug-abuse solution; they are part of the problem.