The Debate over D.A.R.E.

Survey shows drug prevention program is ineffective; others maintain it is

Kathy Hanks

The giant ball was bigger than the 18 children pushing it across the field.
Among the group of Fairfield East Elementary School fifth-graders Thursday was Reno County (Kansas) Sheriff's Officer Jim Potter, trying to sneak a lesson into the game.
It was part of Potter's Drug Abuse Resistance Education program and Life Skills Training for fifth- and sixth-graders, which he and two other county resource officers lead in five school districts in Reno County.

For the past 18 years, prevention has been Potter's focus. However, during a recent Hutchinson town hall meeting, results of a 2006 survey by Kansas Communities that Care included information that D.A.R.E. offered ineffective strategies that had not had the impact hoped for with underage drinking or substance abuse.

Negative numbers

D.A.R.E. was declared ineffective in 2003 by the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, the U.S. Surgeon General's office and the National Academy of Sciences concluded the 26-year-old national program sometimes is counterproductive in some populations, with those who graduate from D.A.R.E. later having higher rates of drug use.

Kevin Haggerty, assistant director of the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington, reported that eight different studies have evaluated D.A.R.E. and the overall effect hoped for has not been seen.

According to Steve Aos, with the Washington State Institute for Public Police, an estimate of benefits and costs found for every $99 dollars spent, the benefit was a $99 net loss.

In other words, the average cost per student to participate in D.A.R.E. is $99, but no benefits were found per youth.

"We want to believe in prevention, but want to see if there is monetary value," Haggerty said.

However, the cost for Life Skills Training was $29 per student, with positive results.

"When you look at measured benefits of Life Skills Training, including decreased initiated use of alcohol, cigarettes or reduced crime, over time, it is monetized at $717 per student," Haggerty said.

The other side

Fairfield East principal Ginger Stiggins cautioned that research could be "tricky."

Stiggins asked if the research took into account what the outcome might be if there was no program at all.

Her own children were part of the D.A.R.E. program under Potter.

"My children bought into everything Sgt. Potter had to offer. The facts about drug abuse and violence; they learned strategies for personal life and took it to heart," Stiggins said. "They are still pretty young, but I am pleased with their knowledge and skills they learned."

Potter noted negative studies done with the old curriculum from the 1990s, but now he's using new curriculum developed three years ago.

Haggerty said, "To be fair, new D.A.R.E. curriculum is still being tested in a clinical trial." The new data was not available yet, however.

"There is hope that the new curriculum might be having a positive outcome," Haggerty said. "I don't want to be a nay-sayer, but there have been a lot of different studies, and the outcomes aren't very positive."

Haggerty admitted there were some positive things about D.A.R.E.'s infrastructure that helps kids connect with school and community. When kids bond with teachers and D.A.R.E officers, it's an important protective factor.

But when schools put their money into prevention, he said, they want to put it in places that will pay off.

Life lessons

Back on the playing field Thursday, real life lessons were being learned. The ball became an object of a lesson when 10-year-old Eric Schoenecker shoved it forward as Josh Hickey, 11, was attempting to stop it. Hickey hit the ground, and the ball kept rolling.

Shoenecker spent "time out" to think about what happened.

"I got too excited," Shoenecker admitted.

When Hickey went back in to play, Shoenecker called out "sorry."

Potter told the students, "My concern is when you don't think of other people, someone can get hurt."



  • Reprinted by permission of the author from  The Hutchinson Times, where it originally appeared.

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