Pros and Cons of the D.A.R.E. Program

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Introduction

D.A.R.E., which stands for drug abuse resistance education, delivers drug abuse, gang, and violence prevention to school children. As of 2013, three quarters of school districts in the United States had D.A.R.E. programs, in addition to fifty two other countries worldwide (D.A.R.E.). The non-profit program began in 1983 and has since reached hundreds of millions of K-12 students across the world. Proponents of the program say that it helps prevent drug use in elementary, middle, and high school students, it can positively impact students’ understanding of the effects of various drugs and relationships with the police, it is widely supported by both students and parents, it can help improve attendance, and is the most popular substance abuse prevention program used in schools today. Not everyone feels the same way, however. There are certainly opponents of the program. They feel that the program is not, in fact, very effective in preventing drug use in students, it can potentially lead to an increase in drug use, it does not have any long-term effects on students’ relationships with police and knowledge of drugs and their effects, and can even cause them to ignore legitimately useful information about substance abuse. 

Pros of the D.A.R.E. Program

Proponents of the D.A.R.E. program feel that it helps prevent drug use in students ranging from elementary school to high school. The United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report that participants in D.A.R.E. often have lower usage rates of marijuana and tobacco; furthermore, those who were exposed to the D.A.R.E. program were forty percent more likely to report reductions in their alcohol use while thirty two percent said they stopped drinking altogether (“Is the D.A.R.E. Program Good for America’s Kids (K-12)?”). There are a number of studies that support this conclusion. One, published in the Journal of the National Medical Association, found that those who graduate the D.A.R.E. program are far less likely to start smoking compared to those who were not enrolled in the program; in addition, fifth and sixth graders reported lower levels of tobacco use in the years following their graduation from the program (Ahmed, Ahmed, Bennett, and Hinds). The program had clear impacts on students of older ages, too. A 2010 evaluation of the program’s graduates found that students who used marijuana in seventh grade were pointedly less likely to use marijuana by the time they reached eleventh grade compared to those who did not complete the D.A.R.E. program (“Is the D.A.R.E. Program Good for America’s Kids (K-12)?”). Countless studies from various sources support the claim that the program helps reduce the use of drugs and alcohol in every age group it reaches. 

Another benefit of the D.A.R.E. program is that it helps to positively impact students’ attitudes and decision-making towards the use of drugs and alcohol. Several peer-reviewed studies show that graduation from the program has beneficial effects on a student’s social skills, attitudes towards police and drug use, and the understanding of the effects and prevalence of drug use. D.A.R.E. graduates showed an almost twenty percent reduction rate in the perception that drug use was acceptable (“National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices”). The same study checked in with graduates of the program two, eight, and fourteen months after their D.A.R.E. completion. There was evidence at each checkpoint that gradates showed lower expectation of drug use bringing positive consequences, greater use of intervention strategies to turn down offers of drug use, and lower personal acceptance of drug use (“National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices”). Such findings are supported by a great number of studies and speak to the benefit of the D.A.R.E. program.

Yet another benefit of the D.A.R.E. program is that it improves social interaction between students and police officers. A study done in 2008 found that students who were taught by police officers through participation in the D.A.R.E. program were more likely to have a positive attitudes towards the police after they graduated (Hammon, Sloboda, Tonkin, Stephens, Teasdale, Grey, and Williams). Many schools report that D.A.R.E. officers offer a sense of calm and safety in the wake of violence. One school official was quoted as saying, “police are often looked at as the bad guy, or the one that’s going to come in and get you for being a bad guy, and I think that D.A.R.E. provides an opportunity for our young kids particularly to find out that officers can be a resource for protection, for answers for some questions, for direction, and for care.” (“Is the D.A.R.E. Program Good for America’s Kids (K-12)?”). By establishing these positive relationships with police officers, students are more likely to trust them and cooperate with them peacefully in the future.

There are several other benefits to the D.A.R.E. program. One of which is that students and parents alike are in favor of the program. In 2007, a study showed that ninety five percent of the more than five thousand children surveyed felt that the program helped them decide not to use drugs; additionally, ninety nine percent of more than three thousand parents showed “very positive support” for the program and felt that it had benefited their child (“Is the D.A.R.E. Program Good for America’s Kids (K-12)?”). Another positive impact of the D.A.R.E. program is that it has positive effects on student attendance. A study conducted in 2010 showed that students were more likely to attend school on days that they knew they were to receive D.A.R.E. lessons (Vincus, Ringwalt, Harris, and Shamblen). Furthermore, D.A.R.E. is the most popular school-based substance abuse prevention program in the United States. As of 2009, more than fifty thousand officers are trained every year to teach the program to thirty six million students from kindergarten to twelfth grade in the United States and thirty six million students worldwide (“Is the D.A.R.E. Program Good for America’s Kids (K-12)?”). Every president since 1988 has declared one day per year to be National D.A.R.E. Day and widespread support for the program stretches across the world.

Cons of the D.A.R.E. Program

Regardless of the benefits, there are still many who do not support the D.A.R.E. program or federal funding for it. One reason is that some studies indicate that the program does not actually help students resist drug use. In 2004, a meta-analysis was conducted of more than ten peer-reviewed studies. This analysis concluded that the program is not markedly effective in preventing drug use among elementary, middle, and high school students. The study goes on to state that students who graduate from the D.A.R.E. program “are indistinguishable from students who do not participate in the program.” (West and O’Neal). Other studies support these findings as well. One done in 2011 found that the program was ineffective in reducing drug and alcohol use among students and had even less effect in the long term; in addition, another study found that the effects of the D.A.R.E. program measured significantly less successful than other similar programs (“Is the D.A.R.E. Program Good for America’s Kids (K-12)?”). Both the Government Accountability Office and the United States Surgeon General stated that the program and no measurable effect on drug use among youth in the long term and that it was ineffective prevention program (“Is the D.A.R.E. Program Good for America’s Kids (K-12)?”). So many studies supporting these results certainly call the effectiveness of the D.A.R.E. program into question. 

In addition to the studies that find that the program is ineffective, many studies found that D.A.R.E. programs are associated with a measurable increase in drug use among students. One study found that there was a three to four percent increase in alcohol and cigarette use among upperclassmen in high school who graduated from D.A.R.E. that had not used either substance in middle school compared to students who were not enrolled in the D.A.R.E. program (“Is the D.A.R.E. Program Good for America’s Kids (K-12)?”). Another, a peer-reviewed study conducted between 1989 and 1996 found that students in the suburbs who participated in D.A.R.E. programs were between three and five percent more likely to use drugs than their peers who did not participate in the program (Rosenbaum and Hanson). The same study made other startling conclusions as well. Suburban students reported a much higher use of alcohol in the previous thirty days and in their lifetimes, a higher use of drugs in the last thirty days, including marijuana, tobacco, etc., and a higher total drug use over a lifetime (Rosenbaum and Hanson). The fact that several studies show a link between the D.A.R.E. platform and increased drug use among participants is a notable disadvantage to the program.

There are also a number of other drawbacks to the D.A.R.E. program that are definitely worthy of attention. One of those drawbacks is that graduates of the D.A.R.E. program do not show any sort of increased knowledge of drugs or positive attitudes towards drugs and police in the long term. A number of studies concluded that while there may be short term positive effects of the program on participants, those usually only last for between one to two years; one even found that “the effect on drug use behaviors (measured in numerous ways) are extremely rare and when identified are small in size and dissipate quickly.” (“Is the D.A.R.E. Program Good for America’s Kids (K-12)?”). Some even believe that the program causes kids to ignore useful and legitimate information about the potential harm of drug use. Several studies indicate that graduates of the D.A.R.E. program eventually ignore the zero-tolerance message perpetuated by the program when they see friends or family using drugs like alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana without any immediate negative effects, causing them to ignore information they received that is genuinely helpful about the harm in using various drugs (“Is the D.A.R.E. Program Good for America’s Kids (K-12)?”). In fact, the number of schools that implements the D.A.R.E. program into their curriculum is quickly declining, as teacher and administrators begin to agree that the program is not as effective as previously thought. One study done in 2012 found that almost sixty percent of school districts across thirty two states have totally eliminated their partnership with the D.A.R.E. program in the past decade (“Is the D.A.R.E. Program Good for America’s Kids (K-12)?”). Because of this, there has been a six million dollar drop in the program’s total revenue between 2000 and 2011, and patterns suggest that the decline will continue.

Conclusion

Millions of students across the world between elementary school and high school have been exposed to the D.A.R.E. since its inception more than thirty years ago. Its popularity can be connected to several studies that show its effectiveness in preventing drug use among students, its positive impact on student relationships with police and their understanding of the effects of drug use, its positive influence on bringing up attendance levels, and the fact that it is so widely supported by students, parents, and school administrators. However, despite this support, there are also those who believe the program should be eliminated from school curriculum. Some studies indicate that the program does not measurably decrease drug use and can in fact lead to an increase in the use of illicit drugs among program graduates. In addition, other research concludes that it has no positive effect on student relationships with police or their knowledge of the effects of drug use and is rapidly losing support around the country. Only time will tell whether or not this previously popular program will continue to be present in school curriculums.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Nasar U., Noughin S. Ahmed, C. Ray Bennet, and Joseph E Hinds. “Impact of a Drug Abuse Resistance Education D.A.R.E. Program in Preventing the Initiation of Cigarette Smoking in Fifth- and Sixth-Grade Students”. Journal of the National Medical Association 94:4 (2002): 249-256. Print.

D.A.R.E. Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E. America), n.d. Web. 29 Jun. 2016. <http://www.dare.org.>

Hammond, Augustine, Zili Sloboda, Peggy Tonkin, Richard Stephens, Brent Teasdale, Scott F. Grey, and Joseph Williams. “Do adolescents perceive police officers as credible instructors of substance abuse prevention programs?” Health Education Resource 23:4 (2008): 682-696. Print.

“Is the D.A.R.E. Program Good for America’s Kids (K-12)?” ProCon.org. ProCon.org, 2016. Web. 13 Jul. 2016. < http://dare.procon.org/>

“National Registry of Evidence-based Program and Practices”. SAMHSA. SAMHSA, n.d. Web. 13 Jul. 2016. <http://www.samhsa.gov/nrepp>

Rosenbaum, Dennis, and Gordon Hanson. “Assessing the Effects of School-based Drug Education: A 6-year Multilevel Analysis of Project D.A.R.E.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 35:4 (1998): 381-412. Print.

Vincus, A.A., C. Ringwalt, M.S. Harris, and S.R. Shamblen. “A short-term, quasi-experimental evaluation of D.A.R.E.’s revised elementary school curriculum.” Journal of Drug Education 40:1 (2010): 37-49. Print.

West, Steven L., and Keri K O’Neal. “Project D.A.R.E. Outcome Effectiveness Revisited.” American Journal of Public Health 94:6 (2004): 1027-1029. Print.