In an effort to address the rising trend of illegal drug use, membership in gangs, and violent behavior among students, a new initiative was created in 1983. Started as a joint venture between the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Unified School District, this initiative sought to curb the destructive influence of these harmful factors through education. Organizers named this program Drug Abuse Resistance Education, more popularly known by its acronym, D.A.R.E.
More than 200 million students from 53 countries have participated in the program since that time. As it turns out, D.A.R.E. may have actually made the drug and violence problem worse.
The first significant study about the program’s effectiveness was conducted by Indiana University in 1992. It showed that graduates of the D.A.R.E. program had significantly higher hallucinogenic drug use than those who had not gone through the curriculum. This triggered a flurry of additional studies, each one coming to the conclusion that D.A.R.E. was not only ineffective in combating drug use, but it was actually counterproductive and increased illegal drug abuse. Despite the findings, D.A.R.E. continued to be used extensively in public schools and received U.S. federal funding. The funding was pulled in 1998.
Psychologist William Colson opined that the reason for the program’s failure is that “as they get a little older, [students] become very curious about these drugs they’ve learned about from police officers.”
At its peak, D.A.R.E. was part of the curriculum of 75% of U.S. public schools and cost as much as $2 billion. The program included many giveaways, such as black t-shirts with red lettering. It unfortunately also included some ill-thought-through items, such as pencils with the words “Too cool to do drugs”. These pencils, unfortunately, sent exactly the wrong message, the longer they were used.
The Government Accountability Office concluded that the program had “no statistically significant long-term effect on youth illicit drug use,” and the U.S. Surgeon General cited D.A.R.E. as an “ineffective primary drug prevention program.” Studies evaluating the original D.A.R.E. curriculum, through D.A.R.E.’s “Take Charge of Your Life” curriculum, through the present “Keepin’ It REAL” program, overwhelmingly conclude that D.A.R.E. does not prevent drug use.
Although D.A.R.E. continues to be used in many schools, its use has plummeted. In 2002, the organization’s revenue was reported at $10 million. By 2010, it was down to $3.7 million.
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