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Anti-Drug Program D.A.R.E. Is Returning with Mixed Feelings from School Officials

Adults who were in school in the 1980s and 90s are likely familiar with the anti-drug and violence program D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) that came to life in 1983, out of Nancy Reagan’s "Just Say No" campaign. The D.A.R.E. program’s black t-shirts with red lettering still occasionally pop up in thrift stores, and now the program is making a comeback.

This past July, Jeff Sessions commended officers at a D.A.R.E. training conference and urged for a revival of the program to fight the country’s opioid epidemic. “We have to create a cultural climate that is hostile to drug abuse, remarked Sessions. “In recent years, government officials were sending mixed messages about drugs. We need to send a clear message. We must have Drug Abuse Resistance Education.”

In the original program, police officers visited schools to inform kids about the dangers of drugs and violence and boost their self-esteem so that they would say no when peer pressure crept up. At the program’s height, it was in 75 percent of the country’s public schools. The program’s effectiveness was called into question though, and a 1994 study funded by the Department of Justice showed the program only had “short-term reductions in participants’ use of tobacco—but not alcohol or marijuana.” By 2012, it had all but dried up with a budget shrinking from $10 million to just three million.

D.A.R.E. is now beginning to find itself in a growing number of schools, though it’s not the same program of yesteryear. The new program has more input from behavioral prevention specialists rather than mostly law enforcement and focuses on good decision-making and responsibility. "It's not an anti-drug program," Michelle Miller-Day, co-developer of the new curriculum, told Scientific American. “It's about things like being honest and safe and responsible." The new program has adopted the "keepin’ it REAL" approach (Refuse, Explain, Avoid, Leave) with police officers working in role-playing activities with students.

“The core of the curriculum has stayed the same,” Sgt. Scott Staggs, an officer in the Nashville, Tennessee, area told WKRN news. “D.A.R.E. has really tried to keep up with the times about changing things that are going on.” The state will have 130 officers in public schools this school year, educating kids on a new prevention program that focuses on the dangers of opioid use.

“Our program, the research has said, is to go to decision-making,” Lloyd Bratz, D.A.R.E.’s regional program director, explained. “Are the kids making a good decision regarding whatever it is? Alcohol, tobacco, drugs, marijuana, opioids, whatever it may be.”

Studies have shown the altered program’s approach can both prevent kids from trying drugs and improve the chances of those who have already tried drugs from not using them again in the future.

For educators in Denver, Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, bringing the D.A.R.E. program into schools is a bit tricky and some still have doubts about its effectiveness. Denver Public Schools began its own substance-abuse prevention program in 2015 that now is used in 35 of its 162 schools. One of those programs is Whole Child Supports, a program that encourages healthy activities and behavior among students with education about the effects of marijuana on the brain.

“We’ve gone beyond telling kids ‘Don’t do this,’” Katherine Plog Martinez, executive director, told the Denver Post. “We are helping kids understand why things are bad for them and the consequences of that behavior.”

Sarah Grippa, a former special education, health teacher, and co-founder of the Marijuana Education Initiative, a program used in some Denver-area schools stressed that students needed a “reality based curriculum” and that there was “no desire to adopt the antiquated ‘Just Say No’ approach.”

That criticism is disheartening for D.A.R.E. proponents like Richard Clayton, a retired substance-abuse researcher with the University of Kentucky who helped advise the revamped program. “DARE took the scientific community seriously, worked hard with them, and now DARE has become a lot more effective,” Clayton told the Denver Post, adding “My hat is off to them.”


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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