D.A.R.E. Essay

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America’s War on Drugs produced a number of drug control strategies in the 1980s. One of these strategies was the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, more commonly known as D.A.R.E. The Addiction Research Foundation has identified three categories for drug prevention and treatment: programs that provide a great deal of factual information, programs that focus primarily on values and attitudes, and programs that center on problem behavior. It has been said that D.A.R.E. fits into the second category of prevention and treatment programs. D.A.R.E. has been one of the most visible, well-known, and (at one time) popular antidrug education programs established in the United States. The D.A.R.E. program, with its headquarters in California, now extends to 49 countries throughout the world and reportedly involves 36 million children globally.

How It Works

The D.A.R.E. program began in Los Angeles in 1983 under the leadership of then Chief of Police Daryl F. Gates and in cooperation with the Los Angeles Unified School District. The original intention of the program was similar to other demand-side drug control programs in that it wanted to prevent drug use among youth, deter membership in youth gangs, and address some of the correlates of violent behavior among juveniles. One of the central ideas of the program incorporated an approach of community-based policing; uniformed police officers underwent 80 hours of special training to help conduct classes in K–12 classrooms. Initially the program was intended for grades K–12, but ended up being provided in primarily fifth and sixth or early middle-school grades. The program was also designed to help youth improve their decision-making skills, combat peer pressures (particularly at school locations), and consider different alternatives to drug use. Students were usually asked to pledge not to use drugs and were instructed by local police officers in the dangers of drug use. Nearly 15 years after it began, the D.A.R.E. program could be found in more than 70 percent of U.S. public schools. It provided information to millions of children each year at a cost of more than $700 million annually.

The Studies

A decade after the D.A.R.E. program began, a number of evaluation studies surfaced that pointed to the ineffectiveness of the D.A.R.E. programs. In 1994, a North Carolina research project sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) investigated the top studies that had been conducted on the D.A.R.E. program. This NIJ-sponsored study, the results of which appeared in the American Journal of Public Health, reported minimal, short term, and less effective reductions in drug use among the programs’ participants when compared to other drug education programs operating at the time. In an effort to defend the D.A.R.E. program, the U.S. Department of Justice (one of the government funders of the program) not only questioned the methodology of the study, but also published its own version of the findings and indicated that participants in the D.A.R.E. program, as well as communities, had reportedly high levels of satisfaction with the program.

In 1996, more studies were produced that suggested D.A.R.E. had less significant effects on youth drug use than previously reported by D.A.R.E. supporters. In 1996, the University of Kentucky conducted a five-year longitudinal study on over 1,000 students who had participated in a sixth-grade D.A.R.E. program. The study determined that drug abuse among the D.A.R.E. program students did not differ either immediately after going through the program or 10 years later when compared with other former students in the study cohort. The deputy director of D.A.R.E. America responded to the negative findings by pointing out that any drug-reducing effects among D.A.R.E. participants were bound to taper off naturally over time; the program could not, he said, guarantee the prevention of drug use for the life span of the program participants.

Several important studies that surfaced in 1997 added fuel to the ongoing criticism of the D.A.R.E. program. A four-year North Carolina study sponsored by the Department of Education and involving 10,000 fifth- and sixth-grade students pointed to other school-based drug education programs as being more effective in preventing drug use among young students than what D.A.R.E. could provide. Likewise, a California-based study involving 5,000 students suggested that 70 percent of the study’s participants did not feel that the D.A.R.E. program had any lasting positive effect on them. In addition, several prominent criminologists at the University of Maryland conducted studies that showed how education-based drug programs (among other types of crime prevention approaches they investigated) had little effect on reducing substance use among youth.

In 2001, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher determined that D.A.R.E. should be placed in a category denoting its apparent ineffectiveness. Further, in 2007 the program was determined not only to be ineffective in reducing drug use, but also to possibly cause harm to its participants, as noted in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. In 2004, D.A.R.E. America underwent major revisions to its curriculum. D.A.R.E. has adopted an evidence-based middle-school curriculum borrowed from Pennsylvania State University’s Keepin’ it REAL program.

Prevention or Psychotherapy?

One of the ethically based criticisms of the D.A.R.E. program has centered on the question of whether it is truly a drug prevention program or a psychological or psychotherapy-based program because of its emphasis on values, value clarification, and self-esteem enhancement. Along those lines, some critics of the D.A.R.E. program have voiced concerns over the use of law enforcement officers, who, despite the 80 hours of training they receive as D.A.R.E. curriculum instructors, may not be qualified to teach a psychologically based curriculum to school children.

Creative Marketing or Effective Program?

Other ethical concerns of D.A.R.E. pertain to its strict ideology, often seen as zero-tolerance based (placing alcohol, tobacco, and all drugs in the same category), and its use of aggressive marketing strategies. Marsha Rosenbaum, former head of the Lindesmith Center, a drug policy reform organization, pointed out that D.A.R.E.’s popularity despite its apparent flaws was often tied to the free gifts that the program offered to individuals as well as organizations. D.A.R.E. pens, bumper stickers, school banners and pennants, coloring books and logo-bearing toys for small children, T-shirts for the program graduates, expensive fund-raisers, and funding for police officer/teacher positions have all contributed to D.A.R.E.’s successful marketing. Some have questioned the ethical use of such a strategic public relations campaign (and its costs), particularly in light of evaluation-based criticisms of D.A.R.E. and the ongoing doubts about its overall effectiveness in reducing drug use among program members.

Students or Informants?

Another ethical concern surrounding the D.A.R.E. program points to the program’s lesson of the Three R’s, which suggests to students that they must learn to Recognize, Resist, Report. That is, students have been instructed to disclose drug use to D.A.R.E. officers, but are not always capable of discerning harmful from harmless or illegal from legal drugs and drug use. As a result, a number of school-aged participants became informants as part of the D.A.R.E. program. In several cases across the country, the children acted as informants against their parents when they told D.A.R.E. police officers/instructors about marijuana or amphetamine use at home. The results were arrested parents and worried, confused schoolchildren.


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  2. Clayton, Richard, Anna Cattarello, and Bryan “The Effectiveness of Drug Abuse Resistance Education (Project DARE): 5-Year Follow-up Results.” Preventive Medicine, v.25/3 (1996). http://www.barkingduck.net/ehayes/essays/ccp674590.html (Accessed January 2013).
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  4. Gonnerman, Jennifer. “Truth or D.A.R.E.: The Dubious Drug Education Program Takes New York.” The Village Voice, (April 6, 1999). http://www.villagevoice.com/1999-04-06/news/truth-or-d-a-r-e (Accessed February 2013).
  5. “How Effective Is DARE? A Selection of Opposing Views and Reports.” Frontline PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/dope/dare (Accessed January 2013).
  6. Lilienfeld, S. O. “Psychological Treatments That Cause Harm.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, v.2 (2007).
  7. Rab, Sara. “The Debate Over D.A.R.E.” (May/June 1997).
  8. National Drug Strategy Network. http://www.ndsn.org/mayjun97/dare.html (Accessed January 2013).
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