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DARE’s Dying Gasp


The nations most popular drug education program may be on the ropes. The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program is increasingly being tossed out of school systems as the evidence of its failure to deter drug use becomes overwhelming.

DARE was the brainchild of Los Angeles Police Department chief Daryl Gates, who launched the program in the early 1980s. More than 20 million students receive DARE training each school day; DARE is taught in every state and in three-quarters of the nations school districts. The DARE curriculum is taught by police primarily to fifth- and sixth-graders, though children in kindergarten and in high school also receive DARE instruction. The police are supposed to serve as role models and trusted confidants.

America is deluged with DARE paraphernalia including bears, bumper stickers, buttons, hats, and jeeps. DARE has everything except good results. Many independent experts have found that DARE miserably fails students:

The federal Bureau of Justice Assistance paid $300,000 to the Research Triangle Institute (RTI), a North Carolina research firm, to analyze DARE’s effectiveness. The RTI study found that DARE failed to significantly reduce drug use. Researchers warned that DARE could be taking the place of other, more beneficial drug-use curricula. Dennis Rosenbaum, professor of criminal justice studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, surveyed and tracked 1800 kids who had DARE training and concluded in 1998 that suburban students who participated in DARE reported significantly higher rates of drug use than suburban students who did not participate in the program.

A 1999 study by the California legislative analysts office concluded that DARE didnt keep children from using drugs. In fact, it found that suburban kids who took DARE were more likely than others to drink, smoke and take drugs, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A 1999 University of Kentucky study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, examined the effect of DARE on students behavior over the subsequent 10 years. The report concluded: Our results are consistent in documenting the absence of beneficial effects associated with the DARE program. This was true whether the outcome consisted of actual drug use or merely attitudes toward drug use. One Kentucky researcher observed: The only difference was that those who received D.A.R.E. reported slightly lower levels of self-esteem at age 20.

Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson recently denounced DARE as a fraud on the people of America. Anderson, who yanked DARE from Salt Lake City schools, complained: For far too long, drug-prevention policies have been driven by mindless adherence to a wasteful, ineffective, feel-good program. DARE has been a huge public-relations success but a failure at accomplishing the goal of long-term drug-abuse prevention.

DARE America president Glenn Levant defends DARE by pointing to the reported 13 percent decline in teenage drug use in the most recent annual survey. However, the percentage of eighth-graders who used marijuana, cocaine, and LSD tripled between 1991 and 1997. DARE cannot claim credit for the most recent decline without accepting blame for the huge increase in the preceding years at a time when DARE already saturated the nations public schools.

DARE suffered a stunning defeat last April that could cripple its ability to stifle criticism. Federal judge Virginia Phillips, in a case involving DARE Americas libel suit against Rolling Stone magazine, ruled that there was substantial truth to the charges that DARE had sought to suppress scientific research critical of DARE and had attempted to silence researchers at the Research Triangle Institute, editors at the American Journal of Public Health, and producers at Dateline: NBC.

DARE’s feel-good photo opportunities are no substitute for effective drug education. American children deserve something than a drug program that fails to persuasively inform and warn them of the danger of narcotics. Politicians, school officials, and police need the courage to admit that DARE is a dud.

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    James Bovard is a policy adviser to The Future of Freedom Foundation. He is a USA Today columnist and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New Republic, Reader’s Digest, Playboy, American Spectator, Investors Business Daily, and many other publications. He is the author of Public Policy Hooligan (2012); Attention Deficit Democracy (2006); The Bush Betrayal (2004); Terrorism and Tyranny (2003); Feeling Your Pain (2000); Freedom in Chains (1999); Shakedown (1995); Lost Rights (1994); The Fair Trade Fraud (1991); and The Farm Fiasco (1989). He was the 1995 co-recipient of the Thomas Szasz Award for Civil Liberties work, awarded by the Center for Independent Thought, and the recipient of the 1996 Freedom Fund Award from the Firearms Civil Rights Defense Fund of the National Rifle Association. His book Lost Rights received the Mencken Award as Book of the Year from the Free Press Association. His Terrorism and Tyranny won Laissez Faire Book’s Lysander Spooner award for the Best Book on Liberty in 2003. Read his blog. Send him email.