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Drug Abuse Resistance Education: The Effectiveness of DARE

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education program is used in nearly 80% of the school districts in the United States, in 54 other countries around the world, and is taught to 36,000,000 students each year. Therefore, it’s important to know if this highly popular program is effective in reducing alcohol and drug use.

The Effectiveness of DARE

Scientific evaluation studies have consistently shown that DARE is ineffective in reducing the use of alcohol and drugs and is sometimes even counterproductive -- worse than doing nothing. That's the conclusion of the U.S. General Accounting Office, 1 the U.S. Surgeon General, 2 the National Academy of Sciences, 3 and the U.S. Department of Education, 4 among many others. 5

For Example

The U.S. Department of Education prohibits schools from spending its funding on DARE because the program is completely ineffective in reducing alcohol and drug use.

The Public Response of DARE

Leaders of DARE say the program shouldn't be judged by evidence from empirical research studies. They tend to be indifferent to factual evidence and prefer to rely on feelings, impressions and hopes. As one DARE leader explained: "I don't have any statistics for you. Our strongest numbers are the numbers that don't show up.” 6

DARE’s leadership dismisses studies questioning the program's effectiveness. It’s argued that the program doesn’t need to be evaluated because it’s based on proven educational theories and techniques. 7

Not so, according to the experts who should know. "World-renowned psychologists Bill Coulson, Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow developed the theories that DARE was founded on. Rogers and Maslow later admitted their theories were wrong and off-base. Coulson concluded that the program is 'rooted in trash psychology.'" 8

If people insist on evidence, MADD leadership points to surveys that ask students, parents and teachers whether they like the program. Although irrelevant to effectiveness, most people report satisfaction with DARE. The organization‘s leadership argues that such satisfaction demonstrates effectiveness. 9 *

Proof?

DARE has a double standard for proof. On the one hand, it says the fact that most people like the program is proof that it's effective. On the other hand, it insists that only a nation-wide study over many years and costing three to five million dollars could demonstrate that it's not effective! DARE plays a game of "heads I win, tails you lose."

When the National Institutes of Health/University of Kentucky study found DARE ineffective, the organization’s leader called it "bogus," 10 an "academic fraud," 11 and claimed that it was "part of an anti-DARE vendetta by therapists." 12 He dismissed the results as "voodoo science" and charged, without any evidence, that DARE's critics are biased by their financial interest in prevention programs that compete with DARE. "I truly believe they are setting out to find ways to attack our programs and are misusing science to do it. The bottom line is that they don't want police officers to do the work, because they want it for themselves." 13

Proponents seem inclined to ignore scientific research findings. "In Houston, Texas, where a study showed a shocking 29% increase in drug usage and a 34% increase in tobacco usage among students participating in DARE, the police chief defended it by saying he would use the results to 'fine-tune the program to better serve the children.'" And he unashamedly promoted spending $3.7 million on DARE in the city. 14

DARE leaders not only tend to ignore scientific evidence but even challenge science itself. On one occasion, when confronted with the scientific evidence found by a major study, DARE leadership retorted that "Scientists tell you that bumblebees can't fly, but we know better." 15 Of course, scientists don't tell us that bumblebees can't fly and this statement illustrates a complete lack of any understanding of science. Similarly, the leadership sometimes seems to dismiss scientific evidence as nothing more than opinion or preference." 16

"Our detractors like to characterize DARE as an 'Orwellian reality' or 'Big Brother' at work," says DARE. "These bush-league tactics are transparent for what they are: attempts to support various individual personal agendas at the expense of our children." 17

A DARE press release titled "Pro-Drug Groups Behind Attack on Prevention Programs" damns any who criticize DARE as being advocates of drug legalization. 18 DARE leadership has questioned the motives of anyone who doubts the program in any way." 19 Sometimes DARE suggests that critics are just jealous of the organization’s success. 20 The DARE position is that the program works fine; the only problem is with evaluators and anyone who criticizes it.

This is unfortunate and counterproductive. As a DARE supporter points out "The group is its own worst enemy because it has spent so much effort attacking the evaluators, rather than learning from research." 21

The Private Response of DARE

"In 1986, a National Institute of Justice study suggested that DARE had some promise. The timing was perfect. First Lady Nancy Reagan was admonishing kids to 'Just Say No.' And Congress soon approved a large package of drug prevention money, earmarking 10 percent to go to programs taught by uniformed cops. Along with other criteria, the set-aside perfectly matched DARE, launching the program nationally." 22

However, a peer review of the study soon identified major problems. In reality, the results suggested that DARE might actually increase drug use among girls. 23 The U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance then funded a follow-up study by the Research Triangle Institute (RTI), a nationally prestigious research organization that had never had a study go unpublished. Before the study was completed, RTI "started finding that DARE simply didn't work," and released preliminary findings at a conference. 24

"The national DARE organization kicked into high gear: such information could never been seen by the public. The group made threatening phone calls and violent threats to researchers, determined to hide the information." RTI didn't publish its study. 25

When it became known that the prestigious American Journal of Public Health planned to publish the study, DARE strongly objected and tried to prevent publication. "DARE has tried to interfere with the publication of this. They tried to intimidate us," the publication director reported. 26

After his story questioning the effectiveness of DARE appeared in USA Today, reporter Dennis Cauchon "received letters from classrooms in different part of the country, all addressed to 'Dear DARE-basher,' and all using near-identical language." He says that DARE also tried to intimidate USA Today with a lawsuit. 27

When NBC planned a news magazine feature on the program, DARE cooperated until it became apparent that the story wasn't going to be simply a puff-piece. "They worked very hard to get our story suppressed," the producer says. After interviewing a critic of DARE, the producer was angrily confronted by a national DARE official, who demanded to know why they were "talking to a pro-marijuana supporter." 28

In a case involving DARE's libel suit against Rolling Stone magazine for a critical article, a Federal judge ruled that there was "substantial truth" to the charges in the article that DARE had sought to "suppress scientific research" critical of DARE and had "attempted to silence researchers at the Research Triangle Institute, editors at the American Journal of Public Health, and producers at Dateline: NBC." 29

Effective Alternatives to DARE

The social norms marketing technique has repeatedly proven effective in reducing the use and abuse of alcohol among young people. It's based on the fact that the vast majority of young people greatly exaggerate in their minds the quantity and frequency of drinking among their peers. Therefore, they tend to drink -- or drink more -- than they would otherwise, in an effort to "fit in."

When credible surveys demonstrate the actual, much lower drinking rates, and the results are widely publicized or "marketed" to this group, the imagined social pressure drops and so does youthful drinking. The technique works with both alcohol and drugs.

And if this weren't enough, the technique costs very little to implement.

For more about the social norms technique, visit The Social Norms Marketing Approach and Social Norms Marketing Handbook.

A very practical guide to social norms marketing is Michael P. Haines' A Social Norms Approach to Preventing Binge Drinking at Colleges and Universities. Newton, Massachusetts: Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1996.

Web sites on social norms marketing include:

  • National Social Norms Resource Center (www.socialnorm.org)
  • Higher Education Center (www.edc.org/hec/socialnorms")
  • Montana Social Norms Project (www.mostofus.org/ )
  • Alcohol Education Project (www.hws.edu/Aca/depts/alcohol)
  • Social Norms 101 Primer (academic.hws.edu/alcohol/SocialNormsPrimer.html)

Brief intervention techniques have also proven effective. To learn more, visit Brief Intervention Techniques. See also Brief Intervention Can Reduce College Alcohol Abuse.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Education has identified the following programs as effective for specific target groups. They include:

  • Life Skills Training Program (LST) -LST is a school-based substance abuse prevention program for students 10-14 years of age. It teaches general personal and social skills, specific resistance skills, and normative information. 30
  • Project ALERT - Project ALERT is also a school-based program, in this case for students in middle school. It teaches drug abstention norms, reasons to abstain, and resistance skills. 31
  • Strengthening Families Program (SFP) - SFP is a substance abuse prevention program for substance-abusing families with children six to12 years of age. 32

While they are limited to restricted target groups, the major disadvantage of these three programs is their cost, which is high to very high. But because they are effective, they are bargains compared to the completely ineffective DARE program. For more alternative programs, visit Alternatives to the Failed DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Program

With all of the effective programs available, there is simply no excuse to continue using the useless and sometimes counterproductive DARE program. It’s important to remember that DARE is expensive in terms of both money and time. Every hour devoted to DARE is an hour lost to math, reading, or even to an effective abuse prevention program.

Our young people deserve much better.

Important Facts about DARE

DARE has been charged with "cribbing" its program from a curriculum developed by someone else without that researcher's permission. 33

One researcher discovered that DARE was misrepresenting his findings on its web site to imply that he had found it effective in the long term, which he had not. 34

"Its well established that DARE doesn't work" Dr. Gilbert Botvin - Cornell Medical Center. 35

"Research shows that, no, DARE hasn't been effective in reducing drug use" William Modzeleski, Top Drug education official at the Department of Education. 36

"I think the program should be entirely scrapped and redeveloped anew."

Dr. William Hansen, who helped design the original DARE curriculum. 37

DARE is "a fraud on the people of America," says the mayor of Salt Lake City, asserting that "For far too long our drug-prevention policies have been driven by mindless adherence to a wasteful, ineffective, feel-good program." 38

"Anything is better than nothing, but common sense says more is better," DARE leadership says. 39 DARE's solution is to expand DARE by beginning it in earlier grades and extending it to higher grades. More of an ineffective program can't make it effective. Apparently the head of DARE also thinks a dog could catch its tail if only it could run faster.

DARE has made about a dozen revisions to its program. Each time another study reports that the program is ineffective, DARE responds by saying that the results apply to "the old program." Each revision has proven to be just as ineffective as the one it follows, but it's a very effective tactic to distract and confuse the public.

DARE is testing another revision. However, it remains essentially the same, "with only superficial changes. The same student handbook will be used, with the same messages that do not work." 40 Preliminary evaluations have found the rates of alcohol and drug use among students participating in the "new" DARE program to be the same as those among students using the old, failed DARE. 41

"Critics of DARE say the time is long overdue to dismantle the program and make sure, before exposing children to it, that it is not only effective but, most important, not harmful. They also worry that these changes, like much-heralded changes in the past, will not be significant enough to completely revamp the failing program." 42

"It's a mistake to assume that you can simply design a program and know in advance whether it will be harmful," says Dr. Joan McCord, a leading expert on evaluating programs. "I think of those who created thalidomide. They had good intentions, and look what happened. The harm comes from the failure of programs and programs must be evaluated for safety." 43

DARE argues that "if D.A.R.E. detoured just one child...." communities should support it. Yet if a drug worked one percent of the time, the Food and Drug Administration would pull it off the market. 44 Many experts assert that politics is what has kept the much-criticized program around for so many years, despite a mountain of evidence that it's not only ineffective but sometimes even counterproductive and causing harm to young people. 45

The estimated cost of DARE annually is already $1 to 1.3 billion. 46 That's a lot for a completely ineffective, often counterproductive, program.

 

References
  • 1. The U.S. General Accounting Office found "no significant differences in illicit drug use between students who received DARE... and ...students who did not."
  • 2. The U.S. Surgeon General has placed DARE under the category of "Ineffective Programs."
  • 3. The National Academy of Sciences has found DARE ineffective.
  • 4. The U.S. Department of Education prohibits schools from spending federal money on DARE because it found the program ineffective in reducing alcohol and drug use.
  • 5. The National Institutes of Health funded a study by scholars at the University of Kentucky to examine the effect of DARE on students over the subsequent ten years. The study concluded: "Our results are consistent in documenting the absence of beneficial effects associated with the DARE program. This was true whether the outcome consisted of actual drug use or merely attitudes toward drug use."
  • 6. Sullum, Jacob. DARE Aware, Reason, January, 2001 (http://reason.com/0101/ci.js.dare.shtml)
  • 7. Upton, Jodi. D.A.R.E. doesn't work: Popular anti-drug program not making a difference in metro Detroit - Money can be better spent elsewhere, some experts say. Detroit News, 2-27-00.
  • 8. Barnes, Diane. DARE indoctrination fails to work and ends up endangering our families. Detroit News, 4-2-00.
  • 9. Upton, Jodi. D.A.R.E.: Failing our kids. Detroit News, 2-27-00. Available online at Center for Educational Research and Development (www.cerd.org/press/press09.html).
  • 10. New twists in the drug debate. Law Enforcement News, 12/15-21/99, p. 1.
  • 11. Pugh, Tony. DARE course loses backing in some cities. San Jose Mercury News, 8-8-99.
  • 12. Larsen, Dana. War fun: News and events from the front line. Cannabis Culture, 11-1-1999) http://www.cannabisculture.com/articles/69.html
  • 13. Miller, David. DARE reinvents itself -- with help from its social-scientist critics. Chronicle of Higher Education, 10-19-01
  • 14. Dineen, Tana. When it comes to drug abuse prevention programs, "just say no" to feel-good, time-wasters like DARE. http://tanadineen.com/COLUMNIST/Columns/DARE-ReportMag.htm)
  • 15. Dineen, Tana. When it comes to drug abuse prevention programs, "just say no" to feel-good, time-wasters like DARE. http://tanadineen.com/COLUMNIST/Columns/DARE-ReportMag.htm)
  • 16. Cauchon, Dennis. D.A.R.E. doesn't work: Studies find drug program not effective. USA Today, 10-11-93.
  • 17. Elliott, Jeff. America's just say no addiction: The politics of DARE) also quoted by James Bovard. Destroying families for the glory of the Drug War, Part 1. Freedom Daily, February, 1997. (www.fff.org/freedom/0297d.asp)
  • 18. Bovard, James. Destroying families for the glory of the Drug War, Part 1. Freedom Daily, February, 1997. (www.fff.org/freedom/0297d.asp)
  • 19. Upton, Jodi. D.A.R.E.: Failing Our Kids. Popular anti-drug program not making a difference in metro Detroit -- Money can be better spent elsewhere, some experts say. Detroit News, 2- 27-2000
  • 20. Cauchon, Dennis. D.A.R.E. doesn't work: Studies find drug program not effective. USA Today, 10-11-93.
  • 21. Miller, David. DARE reinvents itself -- with help from its social-scientist critics. Chronicle of Higher Education, 10-19-01
  • 22. Upton, Jodi. DARE wary of outside reviews. From the outset, founder wasn't interested in researchers' studies about effectiveness. Detroit News, 2-27-00.
  • 23. Upton, Jodi. DARE wary of outside reviews. From the outset, founder wasn't interested in researchers' studies about effectiveness. Detroit News, 2-27-00.
  • 24. Adam Hurter. D.A.R.E. sucks: America swallows a bogus program. http://www.wesleyan.edu/hermes/prev/feb99/7A.htm
  • 25. Adam Hurter. D.A.R.E. sucks: America swallows a bogus program. http://www.wesleyan.edu/hermes/prev/feb99/7A.htm
  • 26. Jodi Upton. DARE wary of outside reviews: From the outset, the founder wasn't interested in researchers' studies about effectiveness. Jodi Upton. Detroit News, 2-27-00. http://www.detnews.com/specialreports/2000/dare/history/history.htm; also Banyai, Andrew. Why Lansing's DARE program deserved to die. Lansing City Pulse (http://www.lansingcitypulse.com/040114/040114dare.html)
  • 27. Jeff Elliott, America's just say No Addiction: the Politics of DARE. Albion Monitor, 12-3-95 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor/12-3-95/dare.html)
  • 28. Jeff Elliott, America's just say No Addiction: the Politics of DARE. Albion Monitor, 12-3-95 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor/12-3-95/dare.html)
  • 29. James Bovard. DARE's dying gasp. The Future of Freedom Foundation, September, 2000. http://www.fff.org/comment/ed0900g.asp
  • 30. Life Skills Training Program (www.lifeskillstrainingprogram.com)
  • 31. Project ALERT (www.projectalert.best.com)
  • 32. Strengthening Families Program (http://www.strengtheningfamilies.org/html/programs_1999/06_SFP.html)
  • 33. Miller, David. DARE reinvents itself -- with help from its social-scientist critics. Chronicle of Higher Education, 10-19-01.
  • 34. Miller, David. DARE reinvents itself -- with help from its social-scientist critics. Chronicle of Higher Education, 10-19-01
  • 35. An Analysis of DARE -- Does DARE Work? Shaffer Library of Drug Policy (http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/daremenu.htm)
  • 36. An Analysis of DARE -- Does DARE Work? Shaffer Library of Drug Policy (http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/daremenu.htm)
  • 37. An Analysis of DARE -- Does DARE Work? Shaffer Library of Drug Policy (http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/daremenu.htm)
  • 38. Jacob Sullum, DARE Aware, Reason, January, 2001 (http://reason.com/0101/ci.js.dare.shtml)
  • 39. Upton, Jodi. D.A.R.E.: Failing Our Kids: Popular anti-drug program not making a difference in Metro Detroit -- Money can be better spent elsewhere, some experts say. Detroit News, 2- 27-2000.
  • 40. Kalishman, Ariel. D.A.R.E. Fact Sheet. Drug Policy Alliance, April, (http://www.drugpolicy.org/library/factsheets/dare/index.cfm); University of Michigan, School of Criminal Justice. D.A.R.E. America Strategic Initiative. (http://www.cj.msu.edu/~outreach/dare/elemenupd_2002.html)
  • 41. University of Michigan, School of Criminal Justice. D.A.R.E. America Strategic Initiative. (http://www.cj.msu.edu/~outreach/dare/elemenupd_2002.html); Kalishman, Ariel. D.A.R.E. Fact Sheet. Drug Policy Alliance, April, (http://www.drugpolicy.org/library/factsheets/dare/index.cfm).
  • 42. MacKeen, Dawn. Just say no to DARE: America's school-based drug prevention program gives in to critics' pressure. Salon, 2-16-01 (http://dir.salon.com/mwt/feature/2001/02/16/dare/index.html).
  • 43. MacKeen, Dawn. Just say no to DARE: America's school-based drug prevention program gives in to critics' pressure. Salon, 2-16-01 (http://dir.salon.com/mwt/feature/2001/02/16/dare/index.html).
  • 44. Retsinas, J. Decision to cut off U.S. aid to D.A.R.E. Hailed. Providence Business News, 2001, 15(47), 5B.
  • 45. MacKeen, Dawn. Just say no to DARE: America's school-based drug prevention program gives in to critics' pressure. Salon, 2-16-01 (http://dir.salon.com/mwt/feature/2001/02/16/dare/index.html).
  • 46. Shepard, Edwards. The Economic Costs of D.A.R.E. LeMoyne College Institute of Industrial Relations, 11-22-01.
Readings
  • Listing does not imply endorsement.
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  • Fain, John R., and Bohlander, Edward. DARE in Kentucky Schools, 1988-89: An Evaluation of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program. Bowling Green, KY: Western Kentucky University, Social Research Laboratory, 1989.
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