Ineffective DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Program Remains Popular

Virtually everyone loves the Drug Abuse Resistance Education or DARE program. That is, except scientific researchers who consistently find that that it is completely ineffective. In fact not a single published report has ever found DARE to be effective and some have even found it to be counterproductive. That is, students who took the program later consumed more alcohol and did more drugs than did those who didn’t take the program.

Given its complete failure and expensive price tag (costing perhaps two billion dollars each year), why would anyone not be opposed to the boondoggle? About three of every four school districts in the U.S. uses the DARE program. Perhaps its popularity represents the victory of hope over reality. In any case:

  • Students love the program. It seems to be exciting to have a uniformed police officer in the classroom. And the content matter certainly beats English, math, and other boring academic subjects.
  • Parents love the program because it lets someone else deal with the often difficult subject of alcohol and drugs. It’s often the same with sex education.
  • Teachers love the program because it enables them, like the parents, to avoid dealing with the topic. And besides, it gives them a free period.
  • School principals and other administrators love the program because it fulfills their obligation to “do something” about alcohol and drugs.
  • Police love the program because it supports their agenda of promoting “community policing” and helping residents feel at ease with them. And besides, it’s an easy and physically safe beat.

So the DARE program makes strange bedfellows. Students and their parents both support DARE. Teachers and administrators also support DARE. And if drug dealers knew that DARE is ineffective they would support it along with the police.

Needless to say, supporting DARE is a winning issue for politicians because everyone loves it.

Occasionally, someone in a school board meeting or elsewhere will point out that DARE has been proven ineffective. The responses are rather predictable.

  • One response is based on anecdotes: “A former DARE student told me that the program kept her off drugs” Sometimes more than one anecdote will be presented as if the plural of anecdote were evidence.
  • Another response is to cite irrelevant facts. Typically such facts are that studies report strong support for DARE from students, parents, or others; evidence that the program is popular; that the public thinks the program works, and other facts, none of which address the issue of effectiveness.
  • A third response is that “if it prevents even one child from ever drinking or doing drugs the program is worth it.” This response ignores the fact that the federal government has identified dozens and dozens of alcohol and drug programs that have scientific evidence of their effectiveness. Supporting an ineffective program over effective ones is indefensible.
  • A fourth response is that studies demonstrating the ineffectiveness of DARE were based on an old version. This response sounds reasonable until one learns that the DARE program has undergone over a dozen changes, none which has ever been found effective.
  • A fifth response is that the DARE would be effective if it were taught at more levels. That is, to grades both in middle school and high school. But providing more of an ineffective program will not make it effective. A dog can’t catch its tail by running faster.

And the list of responses defending the ineffective DARE program goes on and on… as does the program itself.

The losers are our young people, who are deprived of effective alcohol and drug education.