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DARE Admits Failure
The General Accounting Office released a review of current research regarding alcohol and other drug abuse prevention programs, particularly DARE, on Jan. 16, 2003. The review, Youth Illicit Drug Use Prevention: DARE Long-Term Evaluations and Federal Efforts to Identify Effective Programs, GAO-03-172R, was prepared in response to a request from Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL).
The GAO report found that "In brief, the six long-term evaluations of the DARE elementary school curriculum that we reviewed found no significant differences in illicit drug use between students who received DARE in the fifth or sixth grade (the intervention group) and students who did not )the control group). Three of the evaluations reported that the control groups of students were provided other drug use prevention education. All of the evaluations suggested that DARE had no statistically significant long-term effect on preventing youth illicit drug use. Of the six evaluations we reviewed, five also reported on students' attitudes toward illicit drug use and resistance to peer pressure and found no significant differences between the intervention and control groups over the long term. Two of these evaluations found that the DARE students showed stronger negative attitudes about illicit drug use and improved social skills about illicit drug use about 1 year after receiving the program. These positive effects diminished over time." (p. 2)
Fortunately, the report noted that proven alternatives do exist. "HHS and Education have identified several programs that show evidence of effectiveness in preventing youth substance abuse and promoted their use in schools and communities. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) within HHS and Education use expert panels to review program information that the programs' developers or others submit and rank the programs on several criteria, such as the scientific rigor of their evaluations and the overall usefulness of their findings for preventing substance abuse. Only those programs that produce a consistent pattern of positive results that have been verified scientifically are recognized as effective, according to SAMHSA."
And yet, in spite of the evidence regarding DARE's failure and the existence of proven, effective prevention programs, the GAO notes that "Established in 1983, DARE operates in about 80 percent of all school districts across the United States and in numerous foreign countries. In addition to the DARE elementary school curriculum, the DARE program also includes middle school and high school curricula that reinforce lessons taught at the elementary school level," and further that "In fiscal year 2000, the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance, which supports various substance abuse prevention programs for youth, provided about $2 million for DARE regional training centers to support the training of new police officers that help deliver the DARE program lessons. Also, in fiscal year 2000, Education provided states about $439 million in grants for schools and communities under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (SDFSCA) of 1994. Some of the SDFSCA grant funds could have been used to support DARE. However, Education has no estimate of the amount of SDFSCA fiscal year 2000 state grant funds that were used for DARE."
Program Completely Revised, Reintroduced; Critics Still Skeptical
Faced with mounting criticism and a growing body of evidence, DARE America, the sponsor of the eponymous D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, has "acknowledged that their strategy has not had sufficient impact and say they are developing a new approach to spreading their message." The New York Times reports that "DARE has long dismissed criticism of its approach as flawed or the work of groups that favor decriminalization of drug use. But the body of research had grown to the point that the organization could no longer ignore it."
The Times also notes that DARE is responding to a new Federal attitude that demands results for its money. According to the Times, beginning in 2000 "the Department of Education said it would no longer let schools spend money from its office of safe and drug-free schools on DARE because department officials did not consider it scientifically proven. The new curriculum buys the program time to prove that it does work."
Several studies have shown that DARE is ineffective and may even prove counter-productive. Still, as The Denver Post noted, "It is now taught in 75 percent of school districts nationwide and in 54 other countries."
Columbia University Study Shows Parenting Key To Keeping Kids From Doing Drugs
A new study by Columbia University's Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reports that parents are the key to kids avoiding drugs. The Chicago Tribune reported Feb. 24, 2001 that "Children who live with attentive parents stand a better chance of never using drugs than do those with 'hands-off' parents" according to the center's sixth annual report on attitudes of US teens on drug use, peer pressure and parental involvement. CASA released the report in conjunction with US Council of Mayors.
An excellent paper by Rodney Skager, Professor Emeritus of the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California-Los Angeles, titled "On Reinventing Drug Education, Especially for Adolescents,", is available through the website for the group Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform. Dr. Skager's paper was prepared for the 2nd International Conference on Drugs & Young People, April 4-6, 2001 in Melbourne, Australia.