Lentis/The D.A.R.E. Program

Drug Abuse Resistance Education or D.A.R.E. is a social program implemented in school systems in the United States and around the world that works to educate children about the harmful effects of drug use. D.A.R.E. provides students with the information and skills they need to make good decisions and lead healthy lives. Police officers conduct activities in the classroom that give students the opportunity to practice applying the D.A.R.E. decision making model, which consists of four steps: Define, Assess, Respond, and Evaluate. Overall, the D.A.R.E program is a demand side drug control strategy, meaning that the program focuses on reducing the number of drug users rather than drug providers. This chapter will provide an overview of D.A.R.E., examine the controversy surrounding D.A.R.E., and discuss potential solutions.

The D.A.R.E. logo


Daryl F. GatesEdit

D.A.R.E was founded in 1983 in Los Angeles, California by Daryl F. Gates, the LAPD Chief at that time.[1] Chief Gates was nationally recognized as a combatant against drug use. During his tenure as Chief, he took a militant approach towards the proliferation of drugs and violence in Los Angeles while concurrently developing the child-friendly drug resistance program D.A.R.E. [2] Chief Gates is also known for his controversial statements and decisions regarding the racial and ethic changes occurring in Los Angeles, particularly during the Rodney King incident where police officers were acquitted of beating the African American citizen.

Political SettingEdit

Fueled by the political atmosphere of the decade, the D.A.R.E. program spread rapidly in America's school districts. The war on drugs had just begun and anti-drug social programs were extremely popular. Prior to the 1980s, eleven states had decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and only 30 percent of high school students believed that regular use of marijuana had harmful effects.[3] This led drug abuse to quickly become a primary public concern. With the election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980, a series of legislation was implemented to deal with the increasing drug use. Reagan called for a "nationwide crusade against drugs" in 1986.[4] First Lady Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign was one of the first and most popular anti-drug movements of the decade.

Following its initial success, D.A.R.E faced a turning point in 2001 with the ratification of the No Child Left Behind Act which required schools to implement evidence-based programs in order to receive funding, consequently suspending federal funding of D.A.R.E. The program's was estimated to cost 1 to 1.3 billion dollars annually in 2001. [5] Due to its high cost, D.A.R.E. revamped its program in 2003 to meet the new funding requirements.


D.A.R.E.'s new curriculum engages students by using interactive activities, instead of the previous lecture style. The program also highlights a closer relationship between law enforcement and teachers, and calls for the support of parents at home.[6]

Age GroupsEdit

While there are programs for all ages, D.A.R.E. primarily targets students in the 5th and 6th grades. By educating preteens, D.A.R.E. hopes to instill negative attitudes towards drugs and violence before children are exposed to them through peer pressure. To appeal to younger audiences, D.A.R.E. uses characters such as Daren, their cartoon lion. In 2001, D.A.R.E. hired the actor Bill Russ to be the official safety buddy.[7]

Lesson PlansEdit

D.A.R.E. Graduates at Pearl Harbor Elementary School

D.A.R.E.'s elementary school program focuses on the short-term consequences of drugs from health, social, and legal perspectives. The D.A.R.E. decision making model encourages 5th and 6th graders to take more responsibility for their actions. Officers lead realistic and problematic situations from different viewpoints to teach respect and diversity while educating children on the negative effects of drugs and violence.[8] D.A.R.E.'s curriculum consists of nine in-class lessons and five take home lessons. The lessons walk students through the consequences of using drugs and the benefits of building positive relationships with people. Students also learn to recognize examples of peer pressure and practice different ways to say no.[9]


Since the inception of D.A.R.E., stakeholders have attempted to measure the effectiveness of the program. Early studies focused on D.A.R.E.'s ability to effectively educate children to do as their mission statement said, "Say no to drugs."


D.A.R.E. is funded through corporate sponsorships, foundation grants, and government agencies. [10] D.A.R.E. sends a positive message combating drug abuse; by financially supporting D.A.R.E., these groups convey their support of the same message. In 1994, the U.S. Department of Justice commissioned a report from the Research Triangle Institute evaluating the D.A.R.E. program. The "Triangle Report" found that 90 percent of students, 79 percent of parents, and 92 percent of law enforcement were in support of the program. [11] Perceived effectiveness of the D.A.R.E. is very high, as shown by a 2008 study that found 89.6 percent of parents believed that D.A.R.E. reduced their child's likelihood of using tobacco, alcohol, and cigarettes. Additionally, 82.7 percent believed that the program resulted in more positive perceptions of police officers. [12] These perceptions have a powerful affect and help explain the longevity and prevalence of D.A.R.E.


Despite support of the program, multiple reports have found that D.A.R.E. has little to no effect in preventing drug abuse in its students.[13] A collection of studies published in 2004 concluded no correlation between D.A.R.E. educated students and subsequent decreased drug abuse. [14] One study even established a negative correlation between D.A.R.E. and drug abuse. According to this 1998 study, suburban D.A.R.E. graduates were 3 to 5 percent more likely to engage in marijuana, cigarette and alcohol use than their non-D.A.R.E.educated peers. [15] This adverse effect may be attributable to the "boomerang effect.", which is grounded in reactance theory. These social scientists conclude that teenagers are prone to experimentation and that D.A.R.E. hands them the information they need to do so.

Additional critics include those in favor of recreational drug use. In several cases, D.A.R.E. students have facilitated the arrests of their parents. The D.A.R.E. curriculum encourages student to identify harmful behavior and seek help when faced with compromising situations. One North Carolina student approached his D.A.R.E. officer with marijuana he had found at home. His parents were subsequently arrested.[16] Proponents of recreational drug use use examples like this to state that D.A.R.E. is indoctrinating the nation's children to form a "big brother" state. [17]

D.A.R.E.'s RebuttalEdit

Studies found that participation in the D.A.R.E. program led to temporary increases in self-esteem and increases in positive attitudes towards law enforcement.[15] D.A.R.E. proponents use these findings to cite the positive effects of the D.A.R.E. program. The U.S. Department of Justice hailed D.A.R.E. as having "humanized the police." They stated that D.A.R.E. "opens lines of communication between law enforcement and youth." [18] In response to allegations of ineffectiveness in drug abuse prevention, Charles Gruber, a former police chief, sums up D.A.R.E.'s rebuttal, "In drug prevention, it is difficult to say how effective we are. All we can do is keep working at it, much like doctors have worked to get to the cause of human diseases." [19]

D.A.R.E. responded to criticism in 2003 with the release of the New D.A.R.E. program. "New D.A.R.E. is about giving kids the skills and information they need to make good life choices." [20] The new program includes additional primary goals including "teaching students good decision making skills to help them lead safe and healthy lives," allowing children to bond with police officers, and contributing to school safety. [20] By adjusting their focus, D.A.R.E. encompassed some of their original, proven effects into a new mission statement.


Many schools have dropped the D.A.R.E. program due to the controversy and the push for evidence-based research by the federal government. Programs that are scientifically proven and have received positive reviews from the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP) are becoming more prevalent. These programs share many attributes with D.A.R.E., such as their teaching techniques and zero-tolerance approach.

Evidence-based Preventative ProgramsEdit

Project ALERT is a 2 year curriculum that teaches teenagers the skills they need to say “NO.” Project Alert is proven to motivate students against drug use, provide skills and strategies to resist drugs, and establish new non-use attitudes and beliefs . Project Alert reports that, over a ten year period, participants reduced current marijuana use by 60 percent. They also showed decreases in alcohol and cigarette use.[21] Additionally, the program is free and delivered 100 percent online, so that teachers have easy access to training tools and resources. In 2005, the Los Angeles School District, where D.A.R.E originated, switched from D.A.R.E. to Project ALERT [22].

Life Skills Training (LST) is a nationally renowned prevention program that utilizes a compentence enhancement approach—a mixture of social resistance training and personal skills—to reduce drug use in adolescents. Students receiving the LST program exhibited a 75 percent reduction in marijuana use; a 66 percent reduction in polydrug use; and a 68 percent in methamphetamine use. LST also reduces violence and risky driving behavior. LST claims that its effects last for up to 6 years. [23]


Critics of the D.A.R.E. program do not generally support other preventative programs. Although programs like Project ALERT or Life Skills Training are scientifically proven, critics believe that they are no different from D.A.R.E.—the message is still “just say no.” Additionally, critics are skeptical of studies proving the effectiveness of these programs. They contend that some metrics of effectiveness, such as “enhanced anti-drug belief” or “intentions to not use drugs,” do not correlate to actual anti-drug behavior and are difficult to quantify.[24] They also point out that some researchers evaluating preventative programs have a stake in the programs’ success, such as Gilbert Botvin, creator of LST and lead scientist on evaluations of LST’s effectiveness. There are also issues of subject selection-bias and selective post-hoc outcomes in preventative program research.[25] For example, LST only reported data from students who had completed 60 percent of the program, inflating the program’s apparent success. J.H. Brown, an independent researcher, found that students who had completed less than 60 percent—even 59 percent—showed no reduction in drug use, and in many cases drug use was even higher.[26]

Safety FirstEdit

Marsha Rosenbaum, West Coast Director for the Drug Policy Alliance and drug abuse researcher, proposes not using an abstinence-only approach. Rosenbaum claims that the decision making models of D.A.R.E. and other programs lead adolescents to only one option: complete rejection of drugs.[27] She claims "the abstinence-only mandate puts adults in the unenviable position of having nothing to say to the young people we need most to reach."[28] Safety First is a "reality-based" approach that accepts adolescents may try drugs. It educates them on the dangers of drug use and the importance of moderation.


Despite its proven ineffectiveness in preventing drug use, D.A.R.E. and similar programs are still in existence. There are several possible explanations of the perseverance of D.A.R.E. Various social groups, such as parents, school-leaders, children and cops claim to derive secondary benefits from the program. For them, increases in students' self-esteem and police-community connectivity present two strong arguments for maintaining the D.A.R.E. program. Additionally, D.A.R.E. makes stakeholders feel as though they are taking action against drug abuse. In this way, the D.A.R.E. program serves as a placebo effect, soothing society's need to fight drug abuse without showing technical benefits. In conclusions, the "effectiveness" of a preventative program is not solely based on scientific research. The discontinuity between research and practice may be explained by the perceptions of various stakeholders and the importance of societal norms.


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