Pubdate: Mon, 13 Nov 2000
Date: 11/13/2000
Source: Nanaimo News-Bulletin (CN BC)
Author: John Anderson

One of the best hopes we have to prevent harmful patterns of drug
consumption is to educate our youth about the short and long-term
effects of drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. The question remains
as to who should be educating our youth about drugs, and what messages
we want them to receive.

Drug Awareness and Resistance Education (DARE) is well-intended
program but generally fails to provide knowledge which deters
school-aged children from trying drugs in their youthful years.

The proponents of DARE argue that their drug education program is
successful. Program "success" can be demonstrated if the measurements
are short-term changes in attitudes of children, or whether or not
parents and teachers support the program. However, the real test of
DARE effectiveness can only be determined by measuring drug
consumption patterns between DARE and non-DARE participants after the
program is delivered.

The majority of evaluations which are "peer reviewed" (assessed by
panels of experts for their conformity to scientific standards before
they are published) show that DARE fails to have lasting effects on
the choices of youth. Several studies have shown that program
graduates are no more or less likely to try drugs and alcohol than
non-participants, and there is even the possibility that DARE grads go
on to use drugs at a higher rate than those who never participated in
the program.

Based on these evaluation studies, several US jurisdictions which used
the DARE model have dropped the program because of a lack of
demonstrated effectiveness in deterring children from using drugs, as
measured by follow-up studies ranging from one to ten years. Sometimes
the effects are initially positive, but they decay over time as kids
age and become more vulnerable to peer pressure and a curiousness for

Why doesn't DARE work to accomplish its stated goals?

The main problem with DARE is its message of total abstinence. Kids
are told that "there's no such things as a soft drug", therefore all
drugs are bad and should be avoided because they have the potential to
lead to harder drugs. Marijuana is second only to alcohol with teens
for their recreational drug of choice. The weakest point in DARE
education is its demonization of marijuana with the use of poor
science (if any) and the portrayal of drug users as weak or
pathological individuals.

Police may do more harm than good by preaching messages like
"marijuana is dangerous and addictive". Many kids will experiment with
cannabis. It is likely that they will experience marijuana in a way
which is nothing like they have been told, and go on to view police
authority on drug issues as less credible when it comes to legitimate
warnings about harmful drugs like methamphetamine derivatives or "Ecstasy".

A reality-based drug education has several important features. First,
it assumes that teenagers can make responsible decisions if they have
accurate information. Many teens have seen the outcomes of drug use or
have experimented themselves with drugs before receiving DARE
messages. Any form of drug education must respect and build upon
teenager's own experiences with drugs.

Secondly, a realistic drug education program which focuses on safety
will realize that total abstinence is unrealistic. We need to base our
education to children with information which is not drawn from
worse-case scenarios, but the typical pattern of experimentation and
later moderation or abandonment of drugs throughout the life-course.
Like the patterns of alcohol consumption, most marijuana users go on
moderate use without escalating to compulsive use, or the attraction
to smoking it is lost entirely.

Thirdly, drug education must be built upon knowledge from the most
current, scientific research available, and not upon the hunches,
experiences or anecdotal information cobbled together by police.
Students in high-school with Internet access will have an abundance of
impartial assessments of drugs and their effects, and will be in a
knowledgeable position to question many of the claims being made in
DARE forums.

Perhaps the best model for the delivery of drug education messages
should be left to skilled educators, or a cooperative model between
teachers, parents and police.

John Anderson,
Chair, Criminology Department, Malaspina University-College,
Nanaimo, B.C.

Bookmark: Articles on DARE: