Truth or D.A.R.E.: Should We Drop the Program?

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“Just say no!” “D.A.R.E. to keep kids off drugs.” “D.A.R.E. to be different.”

It seems like kids these days are just disregarding these catchy slogans. Since I’m pretty sure you are all familiar with D.A.R.E. — Drug Abuse Resistance Education — it may come as a surprise to you that there is a lot of controversy as to whether the program is actually keeping our kids off drugs.

Project D.A.R.E. began in 1983 and became the most widely used school-based drug prevention program in the country, implemented in 75 percent of our nation’s school districts and in more than 43 countries around the world. However, several organizations have found D.A.R.E. to be ineffective — the Surgeon General of the United States, the United States Department of Education, the National Academy of Sciences and the General Accounting Office.

Why? Research over the decades has repeatedly demonstrated that D.A.R.E. is not only ineffective, but also sometimes counterproductive. That is, students who graduate from D.A.R.E. are sometimes more likely than other to drink or do drugs. They tend to feel the need to conform in an attempt to “fit in” with the false impression that more of their peers consume and abuse alcohol than is the actual case.

Students are “tuning us out, and that’s why we haven’t reduced drug use in our society,” said Police Commissioner Richard Dormer to the County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee.

After about 20 years, Suffolk County police department recently eliminated its D.A.R.E. program, which it replaced with Enhanced HealthSmart, a more general health and safety curriculum. The new program targets students in kindergarten through 12th grade and will cover many of the realities that kids face today like gangs, bullying, driving fatalities, dating violence, Internet safety and identity theft. I have to say that I like the idea of continuing the education to our high schoolers.

“We wanted to have more flexibility, and to be able to tailor the lessons to what’s going on in an individual community.” Dormer also announced that only 10 of the 26 D.A.R.E. offices would participate in the new program that began this January. HealthSmart will be taught by teachers in their own classrooms and supplemented by assemblies conducted by county officers.

But not everyone’s as excited about the new replacement. Proponents of the D.A.R.E. program seem very disappointed with the decision to drop the program and feel that it has been an effective way to teach kids how and why to say no to drugs. “It has had a tremendous impact on the students and has become part of our school culture,” said Dr. Sheldon Karnilow, superintendent of schools in the Half Hollow Hills district. “I’m concerned that when the responsibility for teaching the curriculum falls on the shoulders of the teachers, who already have a full curriculum, that it wont have the same effectiveness that it did when the police officers came to visit.”

Suffolk County is not the first that has discontinued use of the D.A.R.E. program — others include those in Seattle, Washington; Oakland, California; and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

As a parent of a recent D.A.R.E. grad who actually spoke at the graduation, I couldn’t be prouder of my daughter and her involvement with the D.A.R.E. program. But like any other parent, I want our schools to be using the most effective program to keep our kids off drugs. The new HealthSmart program seems like an interesting idea and I, like any other parent, want to minimize drug use amongst our youngsters. And, it’s not a bad idea to update our old programs. We need to keep up with the times to make sure we keep up with our kids.

Hopefully we can reflect on the new programs and learn the truth about D.A.R.E. Do we dare to drop D.A.R.E.?



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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.