Study Assails School-Based Drug Programs

Education: Attempts to discourage use are largely ineffective, researchers say. But state has no plans to publish findings.

ERIN TEXEIRA, Oct. 21, 1995, Los Angeles Times

School-based anti-drug programs such as DARE and Red Ribbon Week are largely ineffective in preventing students from using alcohol, drugs and tobacco, according to a comprehensive study commissioned by the California Department of Education.

The study, conducted by a coalition of researchers and professors, found that programs that rely on lectures and assemblies to promote the evils of drugs and alcohol lack credibility with the state's teen-agers and fail to reach the students most at risk of using drugs.

But the Department of Education has no plans to publish the study's report and disputes its findings.

"Our problems with this study had to do with what we thought was faulty methodology," said Greg Wolf, consultant for the department. Wolf, who was not directly involved in the funding or implementation of the study, said he could not specify which aspects of the study the department questions. Other officials could not be reached for comment.

The researchers defended the study and said they don't understand why the state has not published it.

In the study, more than 40% of students polled in a random sample told researchers their decision whether or not to use intoxicants was influenced "not at all" by programs teaching drugs' harmful effects and strategies for preventing use.

DARE--Drug Abuse Resistance Education--is the nationwide school-based program that was started by the Los Angeles Police Department. It exposes children beginning in the fifth grade to a 17-week curriculum that focuses on the problems created by drug use and tries to teach them that drug use is not universal.

"There is no way to truly gauge the effectiveness of DARE," said Sgt. George Villalobos, an administrative supervisor for the acclaimed anti-drug program. "But we know it's successful because of the people we talk to all the time. I'd like to know what [those who conducted the study] recommend in place of this."

The researchers, Joel Brown of Berkeley-based Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Marianne D'Emidio-Caston of UC Santa Barbara and Jordan Horowitz of Southwest Regional Laboratory in Los Alamitos, spent more than three years conducting research for the study and reported their findings at a drug abuse convention in Santa Monica on Friday.

The 5,000-student, 240-school study concluded that as students age they become progressively more convinced that drug-prevention programs are ineffective.

While just 10% of elementary school students had a negative or neutral attitude toward drug-prevention programs, that number jumped to 90% among high school students, the study found.

Seven in 10 students felt a negative or neutral attitude toward their drug-prevention educators and three in 10 disliked their drug-prevention counselors "a little" or "a lot."

One elementary school student quoted in the study's draft report said: "Oh, they lie to you so that you won't do drugs."

A high school student said, "They are not in this for helping you, they are in for getting rid of the bad kids and just having all the good kids in school."

A growing body of research is finding that the most effective drug education programs help children deal with peer pressure to use drugs by engaging them in group discussions and role-playing, rather than by having an adult standing in front of the class exhorting children to abstain.