Insight Web Hub
Comments to

By Tony Pugh   San Jose Mercury News  Email: letters@sjmercury.comAug 4, 1999

Drug Program's Worth Debated

WASHINGTON -- Before police in Lexington, Mass., killed the DARE drug-prevention program for the Boston suburb's middle and high schools last year, they asked the organization's national office about localizing the curriculum with ideas from the PTA, area educators and their own officers. Their overture was hastily rebuffed.

"They told us, `You either teach our lesson plan and our curriculum or you risk being decertified,' " said police Lt. Steve Corr. "The officers came to me and said they weren't happy with the curriculum and really didn't want to teach it."

Although teen drug use remains much higher than it was at its low in 1991 and 1992, Lexington isn't alone in abandoning the nation's most popular anti-drug program for youth, which operates in 49 countries and all 50 states.

Police departments in Seattle, Omaha, Neb., Lawrence and Lexington, Mass., and other cities also have dropped the program, either because they lack the necessary personnel or because there is an ongoing debate about whether DARE -- Drug Abuse Resistance Education -- is effective in curbing youthful drug use.

In the latest study, researchers at the University of Kentucky compared cigarette, marijuana and alcohol use among 20-year-olds who had taken the 17-week DARE course in elementary school to that of young people who had traditional drug education in health classes. The study, published in the August issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, found both groups used drugs at about the same rate.

Changes Usually Temporary

"And any changes in attitude are usually gone in about a year," said the study's author, Donald Lynam, the Kentucky psychologist who conducted the study.

The results mirrored previous studies that found DARE might be effective in changing attitudes about drugs but had little effect, if any, on actual use.

Glenn Levant, the president and founding director of DARE America, the non-profit organization that manages the program, called the Kentucky report "academic fraud" because the students surveyed had taken only the elementary portion of the course back in 1987.

"The program is designed to be reinforced at other grade levels," Levant maintained. "It's only common sense that memory fades with time."

Founded in Los Angeles in 1983, DARE brings local law enforcement officers into elementary, middle and high schools to encourage youngsters to avoid illicit drugs. After-school and parental curricula are also available. About 8,000 U.S. law enforcement agents teach the elementary, middle or high school courses in 80 percent of U.S. school systems. Most of the program's $212 million annual budget comes from private donations and corporate sponsorships. Federal grants provide about $1.75 million.

Sending a strong zero-tolerance message, DARE officers use a standard curriculum that includes instructional films, role-playing, peer-led sessions and a variety of problem solving, conflict management and violence-prevention techniques to teach youngsters about the immediate consequences and long-term effects of illegal drug use.

Positive Results Reported

Levant said the courses were developed by experts and are considered the "gold standard" in drug-prevention education.

In 1996, Joseph Donnermeyer, a researcher at Ohio State University, released what is still the only study of former DARE students who have completed more than one course. His survey of 3,150 Ohio 11th-graders found that 72 percent who had several DARE courses were found to be "low risk" -- never experimenting with drugs and alcohol or having done so only once in the previous year. Sixty-three percent of those who had taken one DARE course were considered "low risk," compared with 58 percent of the students who had never taken a DARE course.

"All the research has consistently said that without (additional) reinforcements, one-shot programs tend to wear out over time. There's a stair-step pattern of slightly lower drug use for each exposure to a program," Donnermeyer said.

"Most kids thought the program was beneath them and a little silly," said Lt. Corr of the Lexington Police Department. His officers said the program's portion about gang influence was a waste of time in his affluent suburban community.

Other critics say DARE's message is confusing and that placing such important material in the hands of police undermines parental authority. Some teachers say it allows officers who have only a few weeks of DARE training to take over their classrooms.

Levant said the curriculum has changed eight times since 1987, and that local jurisdictions can insert information about drug problems in their areas. But major departures from the curriculum are forbidden.

"We've had some cities say, `Instead of lesson two, how about if we allow time for silent prayer?' Or, `Instead of lesson five, can we talk about birth control?' That's not DARE," Levant said.