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
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.