Talking politics has always been a bit of a point of contention. It isn’t considered polite dinner conversation, and these days the political arena seems more polarized than ever with opposing opinions. However, many advocates on both sides of the isle agree that addressing the issue of drug abuse and addiction in America is a very important topic today. With so many differences of opinion regarding strategy it should be more important than ever to pay attention to the statistics. We must learn from our mistakes. So the fact that the U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions still supports the War on Drugs is a little disheartening. Now, Sessions is sticking to his idea of keeping it old school by endorsing the D.A.R.E. program.
The only problem is the D.A.R.E. program doesn’t have the successful record he seems to think it does.
Jeff Sessions Speaks at D.A.R.E. Conference
Tuesday, July 11 Attorney General Jeff Sessions attended a D.A.R.E. training conference in Texas. While at the conference Sessions gave a speech in which he praised the D.A.R.E. program’s work in the ’80s and ’90s, saying D.A.R.E. is:
“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.”
While D.A.R.E. may be the most ‘remembered’ anti-drug program, being practiced all over the country with one of the most recognizable names next to ‘Just Say No’, the real eye-brow raiser was when Jeff Sessions stated:
“We know it worked before and we can make it work again.”
However, the majority of the data suggests that D.A.R.E. didn’t really ‘work’ as well as Sessions thinks. Some would go as far as to say it didn’t really work at all, despite what Jeff Sessions claimed to know.
The D.A.R.E. program was created in 1983 in Los Angeles. In the years following the implication of the program, states and school districts made a great deal of investments into the program. Yet over time studies began showing that all this effort may have done more harm than good, much like the War on Drugs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance:
“To date, there have been more than 30 evaluations of the program that have documented the negligible long-term impacts on teen drug use.”
The agency also states that one intensive six year study even found that the program increased drug use among suburban teenagers, albeit a small amount.
According to a 1994 federal study, if students grew up and learned the dangers of drugs had been exaggerated or misinformed, they would distrust the lessons. Some insist this led to high rates of experimenting with drugs. Ironically enough, when D.A.R.E. was at its peak of activity in across the nation, between 1995 and 1996, teen drug rates were actually at their highest.
In fact, the American Psychological Association conducted a study including one thousand D.A.R.E. graduates over a ten-year period. After the decade, the study found no measurable effects were noted. The researchers compared levels of drug use, including:
- Marijuana and other illegal drugs
The data was collected before and after the D.A.R.E. program. Students were in sixth grade for the first period of the study, and were surveyed again when they were 20 years old. Although there were some measured effects shortly after the program on the attitudes of the students towards drug use, these effects did not appear to last.
D.A.R.E. to Do it Different
In defense of the D.A.R.E. program, the methods have changed since back in 2012 after the overwhelming empirical data influenced multiple levels of government to pull funding for the program. But it seems Jeff Sessions might want to push government funding back into the archaic attitudes that got the program nowhere.
Back in the ’80s and ’90s the program primarily involved police officers going to schools to educate kids about the dangers of gang violence and drug use. But many call the old techniques more ‘fear-mongering’ or ‘scare tactics’ than actual education. The majority of data shows these methods don’t seem to have the impact people thought they would.
Most drug policy experts believe that the attempts made to frighten kids away from drugs more often backfired. Even DARE’s own front-runners have acknowledged the program’s failures after years of denying the evidence.
The new strategy the D.A.R.E. program uses it evidence-based instead of fear-based. This reinvention includes the “Keepin It Real Program” that focuses on better decision making for kids. We should celebrate that D.A.R.E. is doing things a little different.
But the issue is most people are taking with these statements is that it appears Attorney General Jeff Sessions seems to think the old way was better. This jives pretty well with his ‘tough on crime’ agenda that aims to pursue harsher punishments, push for mandatory minimum sentencing and echoes negative stigma against people who use drugs. If Jeff Sessions makes a shift to supporting the new and improved D.A.R.E. then we can all breathe a little easier, but right now it isn’t looking that way.