Are ‘Just Say No’ Programs in Schools Really Effective?

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program, referred to as D.A.R.E., is used in 80 percent of schools across the country, in 54 additional countries and teaches over 36,000,000 students about the dangers of drug abuse each year. However, DARE programs are being cut back by school districts because of the inefficacy of the program and outdated nature of the “Just Say No” campaign. There is an added strain as well. As more schools are looking to cut programs due to the economic climate, workshops like DARE won’t slip through the cracks any more.

What the Research Says about DARE Programs

So are DARE programs really ineffective, or is this just a picture that has been painted from skeptics over the years? Well, the research is pretty clear: DARE programs serve little benefit, if any. The US General Accounting Office, the US Surgeon General, the US Department of Education and the National Academy of Sciences have all concluded from their scientific studies that students who received DARE classes are no less likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol or have an increased sense of self esteem. Armed with this information, the US Department of Education prohibits schools from spending money on DARE programs.

Of course, not everyone agrees with these findings. The nearly 100 police officers that teach the program to students feel that the greatest results are those that we don’t see: the increase in self-esteem, enhanced awareness of drugs and the ability to learn creative ways to say no. But with dwindling support from the government, education system and community, it’s hard to continue implementing the program, which is why DARE is quickly phasing out.

Why DARE Programs Don’t Work

It’s hard to imagine that a program that has been naturally embedded in our schools’ curriculums has been ineffective and possibly even harmful all along. Some schools actually saw an increase in drug use, and many other schools have had similar findings. Here are a few reasons why the DARE program has shown to be lackluster and counterproductive:

  • The program exposes school age children to drugs earlier than they need to be, increasing their curiosity.
  • DARE has used the same drug prevention model for decades, even though this model has been debunked and proven not to work.
  • DARE is a costly program that brings money to the local police departments, and schools are always willing to give the program another try.
  • The program makes kids feel that “drugs are everywhere.” This notion leads kids to believe that everyone is using drugs and that they should, too.
  • Police officers are ineffective at delivering anti-drug messages. Peer-to-peer interaction is most beneficial.

Alternatives to the Traditional DARE Program

Are there any alternatives to the DARE program? Yes. Even though the core of this program may not be helpful in fighting drug abuse, our students still require some type of education in this department. Schools, the community and even the government agree, but the success of the program needs to take on a much different approach than traditional DARE classes. Currently, there are a number of programs in the works that are being done on a trial-and-error basis. Keepin’ it REAL (Refuse, Explain, Avoid and Leave) is one example.

In Keepin’ it REAL, 6th-9th graders are taught how to say no to drugs without losing their friendships. The program is current, culturally grounded and introduces a variety of effective – yet cool – strategies for saying no. If we move over to Melbourne, Australia, their Victorian public schools are trying a new, experimental program where kids actually learn about how to pour drinks correctly, administer overdose CPR and achieve a “high” without the use of drugs or alcohol. In the states, you can imagine how quickly a program like this would be rejected, but the success rates for it are high. Students have been shown to decrease their drug and alcohol use and cut back on binge drinking rates.

Finding the Right Fit

At The River Source, drug abuse is a very real thing for us because we see it every day. While we firmly believe that students need some type of intervention to teach them about the dangers of drugs and binge drinking, it seems as if we have yet to find a program that really works. There are countless programs available, and it’s up to the education departments to implement new programs on a trial basis to see what types of approaches hit home for kids in the 21st century, even if they seem unconventional on the front-end.

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