Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) was launched in Los Angeles in 1983. In the years following the spread of DARE programs around the country, various studies emerged with the goal of determining whether DARE was succeeding in its efforts to keep kids from drugs and alcohol. The studies looked at populations of students in different parts of the country, some of which had gone through the curriculum philosophy and some of which had not to find out what percentage of both groups ended up engaging in substance use.
The studies universally concluded that the DARE program had little to no effect on students’ decisions to use cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol. Researchers found that students who had graduated from DARE were just as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as those students who had not gotten through the training. They discovered that while DARE often changed students’ initial perceptions of drugs and alcohol, the program did not have a long-lasting effect on their decision-making.
These results have led many people to question the value of continuing to operate the DARE program, especially in times of budget shortfalls. The program costs local police departments millions of dollars each year to carry out. However, suggestions that the program is curtailed or eliminated are typically met with strong resistance.
In spite of the studies that leave DARE’s effectiveness in doubt, the program remains very popular with school districts, parents, lawmakers, and law enforcement. The reasons for this ongoing popularity are various, and the current lack of a viable alternative certainly plays a role.
The program gives local law enforcement officials the rare opportunity to take proactive measures in the fight against illegal drugs and underage substance abuse. School districts appreciate that DARE allows them to provide substance use education in the classroom at a little cost since local police departments provide almost all the funding for the program. Many parents see DARE as an institution and resist the idea of eliminating DARE without replacing it with alternate substance abuse education. This widespread community support has, in turn, made lawmakers hesitant to propose cuts and changes to the program.
Nevertheless, DARE has made some changes over the years in response to growing criticism and increasing evidence of ineffectuality. The biggest change has been broadening the scope of DARE’s curriculum to include material aimed at middle school and high school-aged students.
For many years, DARE focused its attention on students in the final year of elementary school. The hope was to educate students about the danger of drugs and alcohol before they were exposed to keep them from making destructive choices. In reality, it appeared that teaching kids so early simply meant that the lessons wore off by the time they encountered drug use and pressure among their peers. The research studies from around the country showed that initial enthusiasm and perspectives on the part of DARE students did not last as kids moved on to later grades.
DARE concluded that the program should target older students as well as elementary school-aged kids to provide education and support to students who are currently at high risk or already experimenting with substances. No research has emerged to indicate whether these changes will have a hoped-for impact.