Pubdate: Mon, 15 May 2000
Source: Daily Hampshire Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2000 Daily Hampshire Gazette
Contact:  115 Conz St. Northhampton MA 01060
Fax: (413) 584 3200


Amherst has decided that there has to be a better way to keep children from 
using drugs than the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program. Now town 
officials have to go out and find it.

The School Committee's decision to drop the DARE program, expected to be 
formalized at its meeting on Tuesday, follows a similar Town Meeting vote. 
It would make Amherst the first area community to discontinue DARE. Under 
the program, an Amherst police officer spent 17 weeks a year imparting an 
anti-drug message to sixth-graders. Many other communities, including 
Northampton and Easthampton, remain committed to their DARE programs. 
However, Amherst is not alone in dropping DARE, which has come under closer 
scrutiny after some studies have questioned its effectiveness. Amherst 
cannot be faulted for its willingness to try something new, as long as it 
moves to fill the vacuum in drug education that will be created by the loss 
of DARE. One of the reasons cited for the decision was the town's recent 
survey of teen drug and alcohol use. Preliminary results indicate that drug 
use among Amherst teens exceeds national rates. While that may be an 
indictment of DARE, it also underscores the need for a strong anti-drug 
program in Amherst. Young people in Amherst may be more prone to using 
drugs for two reasons unique to where they live: the easy availability of 
drugs and the town's perceived permissiveness about drugs. Voters sent a 
message to everyone in town in March when they endorsed a ballot question 
supporting the legalization of marijuana. This month, about 1,000 people 
gathered on the common for a pro-marijuana rally, including some who openly 
smoked marijuana, another example of a climate that only encourages young 
people to experiment.

The survey, sponsored by the Amherst Community Partnership on Alcohol and 
Substance Abuse Among Teens, may help identify particular programs that 
have the best chance of success. It may be necessary, for instance, to 
begin discussing drugs with children at an earlier age. Based on the 
survey's finding that drug use jumps from 10th to 11th grade, more emphasis 
on that age group may also be considered.

Whatever Amherst decides to do, other communities no doubt will be watching 
the town's foray into new anti-drug efforts.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Thunder