Futile Resistance


Contrary to the impression created by DARE T-shirts and bumper stickers, most kids do in fact "resist drugs," so there's nothing especially daring about it. But it does take a certain amount of chutzpah to push a "drug education" curriculum that has never been validated by independent research. That's what DARE –a.k.a. Drug Abuse Resistance Education, a program used in nearly three-quarters of U.S. school districts–has been doing for 16 years.

In the most recent confirmation of the program's ineffectiveness, researchers at the University of Kentucky followed up on a study in which students at elementary schools randomly assigned to DARE were compared to students who received drug information as part of health class. The initial study, which evaluated the students from sixth grade through 10th grade, found that DARE had a temporary effect on the attitudes they expressed toward drug use but no effect on drug use itself.

The follow-up study, which surveyed about 1,000 of the original subjects at age 20, was intended to test for "sleeper effects" that might show up after adolescence. "Few differences were found between the 2 groups in terms of actual drug use, drug attitudes, or self-esteem," Donald R. Lynam and his colleagues wrote in the August 1999 Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, "and in no case did the DARE group have a more successful outcome than the comparison group." (The report is available at www.apa.org/journals/ccp/ccp674590. html.)

Lynam et al. offered two possible reasons why DARE continues to be the nation's most popular "drug education" program despite the lack of evidence that it works. First, since stopping kids from using drugs is an unquestioned goal, DARE is "a `feel-good' program…that everyone can support." Second, parents see that most kids who go through DARE do not get into trouble with drugs. They may not realize this is also true of teenagers in general, because "adults may believe that drug use among adolescents is much more frequent than it actually is."

Hmm. Where could they have gotten that impression?