Pubdate: Mon, 13 Nov 2000
Source: Nanaimo News-Bulletin (CN BC)
Contact:  777B Poplar St. Naniamo, B.C. V9S 2H7
Fax: (250) 753 0788
Author: John Anderson
Note: The author is Chair of the Criminology Department at the  Malaspina University-College in Nanaimo, B.C.
Bookmark: Articles on DARE:


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 experimentation.

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

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.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Eric Ernst