Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions Wants to Revive D.A.R.E.

Sessions' nostalgia for the "just say no" campaign glosses over the fact that it didn't work.


Ron Sachs/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called for the return of D.A.R.E. and its famous "just say no" campaign yesterday, calling it "the best remembered anti-drug program today."

"In recent years, people have not paid much attention to that message, but they are ready to hear it again," Sessions told the conference.

Anyone who went to school in the late 1980s or the '90s probably remembers D.A.R.E., where uniformed police would come into classrooms and give presentations on the dangers of drug use. There were also D.A.R.E. shirts and a rocking D.A.R.E. theme song, complete with driving bass, synth lines, and an atrocious children's chorus. There's a also a decent chance that, if you sat through a D.A.R.E presentation, you still ended up saying yes to drugs, because the program was never very effective.

But as with most of the failed drug policies of the 1980s, Sessions remembers it fondly:

"In the 1980s, when I was a federal prosecutor, we confronted skyrocketing drug abuse rates across the country, and we were successful," Sessions told the Drug Abuse Resistance Education International Training Conference in Texas, according to a transcript of his prepared remarks. "In 1980, half of our high school seniors admitted they had used an illegal drug sometime in that year. But through enforcing our laws and by developing effective prevention strategies, we steadily brought those rates down."

"We were in the beginning of this fight, in 1983, when D.A.R.E. was founded in Los Angeles," Sessions continued. "I believe that D.A.R.E. was instrumental to our success by educating children on the dangers of drug use."

It's more than a bit generous to attribute declining drug use to factors like the Justice Department's devastating war on crack and commercials where the Ninja Turtles tell kids not to smoke reefer. Drug use among teens began declining around 1981, well before the creation of DARE and well before the Reagan administration's amped-up war on narcotics, according to annual surveys by the Monitoring Our Future study.

Annual teen drug use // Monitoring the Future study, University of Michigan

Teen drug use continued to decline through the '80s, but it started rising again in 1992, when D.A.R.E. was already ubiquitous in school curricula around the country. That rise leveled off around the end of the decade. Reported teen drug use fell and rose slightly again during the 2000s. And then, despite the lamentations of drug warriors like Sessions over the purported perils of marijuana legalization, it started dropping again in 2014.

The apparent lack of any relation between teen drug use trends and DARE programming led curious researchers to ask just how effective the "just say no" campaign really was. As Reason wrote back in 2004, their findings were not good for D.A.R.E.:

During the last decade DARE has been widely criticized as unproven and unsophisticated. In one of the most damning studies, published in 1999, a team of researchers at the University of Kentucky found that 10 years after receiving the anti-drug lessons, former DARE students were no different from non-DARE students in terms of drug use, drug attitudes, or self-esteem. "This report adds to the accumulating literature on DARE's lack of efficacy in preventing or reducing substance use," the researchers noted. In a 2003 report, the General Accounting Office reviewed six long-term evaluations of DARE and concluded that there were "no significant differences in illicit drug use between students who received DARE…and students who did not." The surgeon general, the National Academy of Sciences, and the U.S. Department of Education also have declared DARE ineffective.

Numerous studies over the 2000s found the same thing. In 2011, D.A.R.E. started a new program—the adorably named "keepin' it REAL"—that was developed by actual prevention specialists rather than cops. That program has proven more effective. Sessions' misplaced nostalgia for the 1980s and its failed drug policies does no one, including D.A.R.E., any favors.

NEXT: Janice Rogers Brown, America's Most Libertarian Federal Judge, Is Retiring

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I was named DARE student of the year my senior year in high school. I don’t really know why. But it certainly was a valuable experience–as a humorous anecdote for whenever I was smoking weed with friends in college.

    1. Look at all these “libertarian” idiots that voted for Trump, Tony.

      1. Well, they don’t get a lot of sun, nor do they eat well.

    2. After reading your posts for years, it is no surprise to me that a) you received a meaningless governmental award given to the most craven, and b) are completely unaware of why you deserve the honor.

      Don’t ever change.

    3. After reading your posts for years, it is no surprise to me that a) you received a meaningless governmental award given to the most craven, and b) are completely unaware of why you deserve the honor.

      Don’t ever change.

      1. Aaaaand shit

      2. I was an awards whore all throughout school, but that one baffled me. I thought perhaps it was my brilliant acting choice in one of those skits where instead of demonstrating how to say no to drugs, I caved and took the drugs, to everyone’s puzzlement. Then I explained the twist, worthy of M. Night Shyamalan: I was demonstrating what not to do. Fuck, I deserved an Oscar too.

        1. So you’ve never had principles, not even poorly-thought-out ones. Explains a lot.

          1. “I want you to pay for armed guards for my shit, but I don’t want to pay anything so you won’t starve to death” might be considered a principle to a psychopath, but if all that counts is having principles, then congratulations.

            1. “I want you to pay for armed guards for my shit,

              After all this time you *still* don’t understand libertarianism.

              1. But I do. You want me to pay for the shit you want, but you don’t want to pay for the shit other people want. Libertarianism!

    4. I got nominated to give some speech after DARE in front of our class and a bunch of our class’s parents.

      I also use that as a humorous anecdote for when I was smoking weed or dropping acid with my friends.

  2. “When I was a federal prosecutor” is an awful way to start a statement. It means, for one, that the listener is currently talking to a politician, because that job is a stepping stone. (Preet is in transition.) And it means the person is an immoral a-hole who had no problem destroying lives to further his personal ambitions.

  3. I saw a Millennial wearing a pristine D.A.R.E. shirt last week. I guess that counts as irony? I don’t know any more.

  4. What else should we bring back from the 80s:

    – music videos
    – Don Johnson
    – ladies in overalls
    – Kelly Kapowski (if you need a link you can go fuck yourself).

    1. – Kenny Loggins
      – the Iroc-Z
      – Pubes
      – T-shirt clips

      1. -coked out movie producers (Hollywood can only poorly replicate that genius)

      2. oingo boingo

        vw scirocco

        the dead milkmen

      3. You can’t bring back Kenny Loggins. Kenny Loggins never left us.

    2. Saved by the Bell was more a nineties thing (it started in 1989). I know I don’t associate with the eighties at all.

        1. Started in 1972 but I’ll let you have that one since I’m an eighties kid and I remember them well.

        2. overalls = worth the look.

        3. A bit too on the nose don’t you think?

          But thanks for the gold mine legacy of parodies.

    3. – The Cold War, oh wait…

    4. -Michael Jackson
      -Janet Jackson
      -Commissars in town
      -Gordon Gecko

  5. Sessions always had a thing for Nancy Reagan.

    1. This is your brain on drugs **O**

  6. “Sessions’ nostalgia for the “just say no” campaign glosses over the fact that it didn’t work.”

    That’s just because it wasn’t sufficiently ambitious. I’m sure that Sessions prefers starting with the inspiring messages and undeniable logic associated with DARE and combining it with the passionate enforcement of Rodrigo Duterte.

  7. True Story:

    When I was a kid in the 90’s they forced some DARE on us and after the presentation I asked some local cops and high schoolers — god I was such a trusting goober; discovering that fairy tale morality and principles are all an fing joke that nobody teaching kids actually believed really fucked my world view to this day, I digress….

    Convinced that bad kids were going to pull me into an alleyway. I asked if I was ever cornered and outnumbered by people trying get me to smoke cigarettes was there any way to “fake” smoke the cigarette? They all chuckled, which really confused me as I was serious about not letting the bad kids get to me and avoiding danger.

    Teaching kids about drugs is pointless and chalk full of unknown repercussions — also they don’t even get it, at all.

    1. There were always going to be kids who “rebelled” and did stuff because it was forbidden. But at best the DARE horseshit kept the “good” kids off smack for a couple years until they learned that, oh, weed and heroin aren’t exactly the same amount of bad for you, and oh, every adult in the room is on Xanax and has a bottle of wine before bed. I agree that it leads to some permanent skepticism and fails spectacularly at its mission because of the hypocrisy and lies not despite them.

      1. kept the “good” kids off smack

        I agree. PYSCH!

        Your slang, is like, totally gordy to the max.

        1. My post was a period piece, asshole.

      2. Our DARE officer was obviously gay and married an obviously gay woman so that was a source of jokes, but that’s about it. The kids you expected to start doing drugs all started doing them by age 12 and were snorting things and taking pills by 14. No surprise all of them had pretty terrible parents that had more of an influence than any stupid school program ever did

  8. They gave away a Darren the Lion stuffed toy to the kid who wrote the best anti-drug essay, my god did I want that thing — of course the overachieving girl won, which inevitably turned me to the devils bush.

  9. What do you mean it failed? It destroyed thousands of families when naive children turned in their parents!

    1. Which, when I was in school in the mid 50s thru the 60s was the standard example of how bad Russia/communism was, and why — kids turned in their parents.
      Apparently, the right is now down on Putin because the Russians are a bunch of quitters — they just didn’t get enough kids to turn in enough parents.
      An infinite amount of contempt is too little for these chronic wastes of space.

  10. Angry baby ventriloquist dummy?

  11. When I was in middle school, they changed which grade got the DARE thing, so my class didn’t get the full program. When we got to 8th grade, someone decided they should do something about it. I guess they figured we were already past the point of buying the propaganda (or perhaps too far gone already), so instead of telling us about the dangers of drugs, a cop came in and told us about the dangers of getting caught with drugs.

  12. And here I niavely thought Republicans were about less government.

    1. Only when they don’t have any actual power.

    2. Republicans are now for big government to cover all their welfare schemes and “protect you” from yourself.

      Democrats are finished as a political party because they are for limited civil rights, the Nanny-State, and against US workers.

      Hopefully, it will be Republicans vs Libertarians here on out.

    3. Since when? Social conservatives have always had an uneasy relationship with fiscal conservatives and libertarians, and even fiscal conservatives tend to fall too often into pro-business anti market positions.

  13. I really enjoyed my DARE class…I tried drugs anyway, but it was fun nonetheless.

  14. It’s been some decades since I read why DARE doesn’t work. If I remember, the pilot program had key components stripped [the most valuable of course] leaving a dry husk that provided short term results [something like 6 good months or so], and actually yielded negative results if the program wasn’t re-run each and every year with students. Of course, something that weak is perfect for political hacks: it doesn’t actually solve anything, requires an annual budget and never goes away. Bam – job security. It’s the flip side of the coin for a black market based on a “pusher” model, but nevermind that in most cases people choose their substance, seek out their supply and don’t wait around for somebody to provide with strong suggestions. I don’t recall which came first: DARE, or Nancy Reagan carrying the mantra of “just say no”, and I wonder if its a mistake to lump them together – “just say no” could stand on its own, and respects personal choice. It also doesn’t need a government program.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.