Pubdate: Thu, 23 Nov 2000
Source: Rolling Stone (US)
Copyright: 2000 Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L.P.
Contact:  1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104-0298
Fax: (212) 767-8214
Forum:  Dan Baum


Maverick Mayor Rocky Anderson Calls The School Anti-Drug Program "An
Absolute Fraud"

ON JULY 11TH, SALT LAKE CITY MAYOR ROSS "ROCKY" Anderson cut off funding to
D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), ending the city's thirteen-year
association with the controversial drug-education program. The mayor, who
summoned a high-ranking D.A.R.E. official to Utah for a last-chance
opportunity to defend the program, says he was unmoved by the official's
discussion of changes being made. At the meeting, which took place with the
school superintendent, D.A.R.E. officers and other policemen, Anderson said,
"I think your organization has been an absolute fraud on this people of this
country. For you to continue taking precious drug-prevention dollars when we
have such a serious and, in some instances, growing addiction problem is
unconscionable." The official soon got up and left. "These people aren't
used to being talked to like that," says Anderson.

Now used in eighty percent of U.S. school districts, D.A.R.E. reaches some
26 million American children and another 10 million students in fifty-two
other countries, and the number may be growing. But both liberal- and
conservative-minded cities have begun to give D.A.R.E. the boot. School
districts in Minneapolis, Austin, Seattle, Omaha, Nebraska, and elsewhere
have dropped D.A.R.E. in the past few years. Anderson's opposition to
D.A.R.E., however, is part of a broader concern he has about harm done by
the nation's War on Drugs. At a shadow convention in Los Angeles, he
suggested that "there ought to be dialogue about decriminalizing marijuana."

Anderson, a boyish forty-nine, made his reputation as an ACLU-backed
attorney suing the state prison and the Salt Lake City police for brutality.
Elected last fall, he supports gay marriage, abortion rights and stronger
gun control, and opposes the death penalty. That someone of Anderson's
politics leads the capital of one of the most politically conservative
states is not so anomalous: Salt Lake City hasn't had a Republican mayor in
twenty-nine years.

Despite the fact that D.A.R.E. and its followers can be zealous in defense
of the organization (it unsuccessfully sued ROLLING STONE; the case is
currently on appeal), Mayor Anderson's decision to cut off funding generated
little substantive controversy. The police department - which has returned
its four fulltime D.A.R.E. officers and their cars to regular patrol - was
officially neutral. Members of the school board felt they should have been
more fully consulted, but nobody mounted a spirited defense of the program.
"My seven kids liked D.A.R.E.," says school board president Kathy Black, a
Republican member of one of Utah's oldest Mormon families. But, she says,
"I'm more eager to have a program that works than stick to any one thing for
the wrong reasons."

Black's "wrong reasons" might include a combination of bureaucratic ease and
old-fashioned PR. School administrators and teachers are partial to
D.A.R.E., according to a University of Kentucky study funded by the National
Institute on Drug Abuse, because it doesn't cost very much (funding usually
comes through the police), it makes the school feel safer when an armed
police officer is present, and it gives teachers an hour-long break. Police
like D.A.R.E. because it lets them connect positively with young people, and
parents like it because, with its high profile, D.A.R.E. makes it easy to
believe something is being done to keep kids off drugs.

It has not been shown, however, that the program actually works. A raft of
peer-reviewed studies, one spanning ten years, have demonstrated that
current and former D.A.R.E. students are as likely to use drugs as those who
never took the course. D.A.R.E. declined to speak with ROLLING STONE.

To replace D.A.R.E., Salt Lake City will now adopt Prevention Dimensions and
ATLAS (which focuses on steroid avoidance). But they and all programs for
which schools can secure federal funding share the same philosophy as
D.A.R.E.: They preach absolute abstention from illegal drugs. This
represents a stark difference from federally funded sex-ed programs, which,
since the onset of AIDS, have encouraged abstinence but also may instruct
teens about safer sex. Even though roughly half of all high school students
experiment with both sex and marijuana, kids benefit from knowledge about
responsible sex, but don't learn about safer ways to encounter drugs, other
than to "say no."

"We're not sure exactly what might work, because there has been no
opportunity to investigate and evaluate responsible-use programs - that's
according to the General Accounting Office," says Dr. Joel Brown, director
of the Center for Educational Research and Development at the University of
California at Berkeley. "Which isn't to condone using drugs, but the primary
objective should be to protect the health and safety of young people."

Drug czar Barry McCaffrey is adamant that only abstinence programs get
federal funding. "Are we going to encourage kids to use drugs in school?
Hell, no," says his spokesman, Bob Weiner. "Parents would go through the
roof, and rightfully so."

Anderson counters, "It would be preferable to keep kids from doing drugs,
but we're not going to do that in all cases. For them we ought to do what we
can to reduce the harm for everybody."
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