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The DARE Approach

Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, is the most widely used substance abuse prevention and safety program in the world, used by some 70 percent of U.S. schools and by schools in 44 other countries. Altogether, it reaches some 33 million children, including 25 million in the U.S. Developed in 1983 as a joint venture between the Los Angeles Police Department and the L.A. Unified School District, DARE uses police to deliver curricula designed by school health personnel. Although DARE says it has programs from kindergarten to 12th grade, most schools offer the program in fifth or sixth grade. Its 17-week sessions are typically administered during the school day with discussions and role-playing on the nature and harmful consequences of drug use, ways to resist drugs and peer pressure to do drugs, and making decisions about risk-taking behavior. For children like Walter Kerr, DARE's message has had an impact. Walter is 11 years old and in sixth grade. "I already knew not to take drugs but I learned more reasons why not to," he says. "They taught us different ways of saying 'no' to people."

However, despite its widespread use and $209 million budget, DARE's long-term effectiveness at deterring drug use has come under widespread questioning lately. A recent study of 1,800 Illinois elementary- through high-school students concluded that DARE doesnít work--and may even increase drug use among some groups of kids exposed to it. An Indiana study also reported that DARE had little effect on drug attitudes among teenagers, finding that DARE graduates were actually more likely to have recently smoked marijuana than those who hadnít taken the course.

DARE communications director Ralph Lochridge agrees that DARE "is not the magic bullet that is going to save the nation's drug problem," but he argues that the criticisms "are misinformed and not fair." Lochridge says over the years DARE has undergone many changes, responding to societal and childhood pressures. The program has, for example, become more interactive, he says.

Some experts theorize that DARE may be ineffective because it uses heavy-handed tactics more appropriate to younger children than to older kids, who are generally more likely to be the ones faced with temptations and pressures to use drugs. Although 10- and 11-year-olds are often vocal DARE converts, such experts say, and may often chastise their parents even for having a glass of wine or beer at dinner, once they move into junior high and high school, they begin to question DAREís messages. "By the end of the seventh grade, the typical American has undergone so many changes that he hardly resembles the child who proclaimed and promised to remain drug-free only two years earlier," according to Michael Stoil and Gary Hill, authors of "Preventing Substance Abuse."

-- Janet Firshein
 

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