AFT Publications American Federation of Teachers
American Teacher
October 1999--Speakout

Does the D.A.R.E. program work?

Donald R. Lynam
There is no evidence to support it

Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), a popular and widely used anti-drug program in many of our nation's schools, has been the subject of a number of rigorous experimental evaluation studies as well as many not-so-rigorous ones. Scientifically sound studies have failed to find any short- or long-term effects of D.A.R.E. on drug use.

Our recently published 10-year follow-up study is no exception. We followed a cohort of children who were sixth-graders when the study began. Of the 31 schools they attended, 23 were randomly assigned to receive D.A.R.E. in the sixth grade while the other eight received whatever drug education was provided in their classes. Participants were assessed yearly through the 10th grade and recontacted when they were 20 years old. Consistent with other scientifically sound studies, we found that D.A.R.E. had no effect on students' drug use at any time through 10th grade. Our 10-year follow-up failed to find any "sleeper" effects (i.e., effects showing up later that were not present earlier). At age 20, there were no differences between those who received D.A.R.E. and those who did not in their use of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana or other drugs; expectancies about these drugs; or levels of peer pressure resistance. The only difference was that those who received D.A.R.E. reported slightly lower levels of self-esteem at age 20.

Representatives of D.A.R.E. America have argued that we did not use "a no-treatment" control, that we evaluated an old version of the curriculum and that D.A.R.E. is meant to be administered in elementary, middle and high school. These attacks are without merit.

First, our study was longitudinal and used an appropriate scientific design (i.e., random assignment), unlike the studies sometimes cited in support of D.A.R.E. The "non-D.A.R.E. intervention" was so minimal as to qualify as a no-treatment control. Second, although it is true that our study evaluated the "original" core elementary curriculum, any changes to the curriculum have been more cosmetic than real. The basic elements remain the same (administration by police, to all children regardless of risk, with a focus on increasing peer pressure resistance, and an underlying zero-tolerance message). Third, although it is possible that multiple administrations of D.A.R.E. would be more effective, there are no scientifically strong studies demonstrating that this is the case. Given that the original elementary school curriculum was ineffective (even immediately after administration of it), why should we believe that providing more of it will prove effective?

In the end, D.A.R.E. America has resorted to these false attacks because there are no rigorous scientific studies with which to refute our conclusions. D.A.R.E. has received hundreds of millions of dollars for 16 years in the absence of evidence of its effectiveness. Perhaps it is time we D.A.R.E.d to try something else.

Donald R. Lynam, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Kentucky. He is the first author, along with Rich Milich, Rick Zimmerman, Scott Novak, T.K. Logan, Cathy Martin, Carl Leukefeld and Richard Clayton, of "Project D.A.R.E.: No Effects at 10-Year Follow-Up," which appeared in the August issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Glenn Levant:
D.A.R.E. is helping to stem drug abuse

In the battle against illicit drugs, "we've turned the corner." These were the words voiced this summer by Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala as she and the national drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, released the results of the annual HHS National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.

The survey, which is one of the very few credible national measures of drug abuse, reports a statistically significant decline of 13 percent in teen drug abuse during 1998. Now it's time to set the record straight. D.A.R.E., the prevention education program that teaches children to avoid drugs, alcohol, tobacco and violence, has played a key role in the overall national strategy that has helped enable America to reach this important milestone.

Community efforts have also played a key role, as has the vital role of individual parents and family members who each day, at home and at work, make this their highest priority. The common denominator in the collective efforts of the team--government, law enforcement, health care providers, religious organizations and families--is education. And although there are many worthwhile prevention programs, none has successfully touched more young people in America than D.A.R.E.

Today, the D.A.R.E. program is taught in more than 80 percent of all U.S. school districts, benefiting 26 million students this year alone. Clearly, D.A.R.E. has played a pivotal role in helping reverse the direction of teen drug use in America.

The D.A.R.E. sequential curriculum is in its ninth generation of improvement and, more importantly, it is the only prevention program that includes elementary, middle and high schools. Thus, students receive vital reinforcement of the principles necessary to provide them the knowledge and skills to avoid not only drugs--but also alcohol, tobacco and violence.

D.A.R.E. is not a government program. It is implemented at the local level at the request of parents, school districts and law enforcement. More than 10,000 communities have D.A.R.E. in place, and each month, scores of communities initiate or expand the D.A.R.E. program.

We realize that D.A.R.E. is not a panacea for the multifaceted epidemic of drug abuse--there is no silver bullet. Nor do we claim that D.A.R.E. is solely responsible for this recent significant and encouraging decline in drug usage by our youth. D.A.R.E. is, however, a vital component of a comprehensive solution that includes caring parents and strong community partnerships.

Glenn Levant is president and founding director of D.A.R.E. America and former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Insight Web Hub
Comments to