Critics of Drug Abuse Resistance Education, the program in which police officers tell kids to just say no, have long been frustrated by DARE's ability to thrive on anecdotes and enthusiasm. Despite the lack of credible evidence that it does what it's supposed to do, it is by far the most widely used anti-drug curriculum in the country, reaching more than 20 million students each day.
But DARE's 17-year free ride may be slowing down. Last summer, calling DARE "a fraud on the people of America," Salt Lake City Mayor Ross C. Anderson pulled it out of the city's schools, saying it should be replaced by a program that has actually been shown to reduce drug use. "For far too long," Anderson wrote in The Salt Lake Tribune, "our drug-prevention policies have been driven by mindless adherence to a wasteful, ineffective, feel-good program."
Although DARE is still used in about three-quarters of U.S. school districts, Salt Lake City's is one of several to abandon the program in recent years. While condemning Anderson's decision, DARE supporters were unable to rebut his charge that published, peer-reviewed research indicates the program is ineffective at best.
In an op-ed piece for The Deseret News, DARE America President Glenn Levant said "we are more than willing to debate the efficacy of DARE" but offered no evidence that the program works. Kathy Stewart, president of the Utah DARE Officers Association, told the Tribune: "I don't have any statistics for you. Our strongest numbers are the numbers that don't show up." And Tibby Milne, executive director of the pro-DARE Utah Council for Crime Prevention, confessed that "it's very hard to say how many kids do not use drugs because of DARE. We're trying to get that information."
The response to Anderson's decision from the local press was largely supportive. "While the decision was not popular, Anderson appears to be on solid ground," The Deseret News said. "DARE is a popular program with broad support," said an editorial on KSL-TV, "but it certainly isn't sacrosanct. Along with Mayor Anderson, communities should dare to question DARE."