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Drug abuse amongst teens is a real vexing problem. There’s no doubt that substance abuse and delinquency have a positive correlation. That’s why nearly every city or town has encountered some type of teen drug abuse problem. Self- reports indicate that nearly 50 % of high school seniors have tried drugs, and a whopping two-thirds of students have tried alcohol. Teens that are at higher risk come from poor neighborhoods and experience many problems, including school dropouts to family issues. And an even more shocking revelation is the correlation of drug abuse and crime rates. Drugs is a very vague term. I’m not just talking about alcohol or marijuana. A wide variety of drugs are being used by teenagers. Some cause slowed movements, some cause hallucinations. Some are highly addictive, while some not so much. This pattern of substance abuse and crime makes this a national concern. If we can effectively deter teenagers from drug abuse, perhaps crimes committed by teens will decrease. However, I do believe we should explore why teens do drugs in the first. In the early 1980’s, D.A.R.E. was created.
Drug Abuse Resistance and Education was created in 1983 by the Los Angeles Police Department. More specifically it was invented by the chief of the LAPD, Daryl Gates. One of Gates reasoning for creating this program was that he noticed the great amount of drug busts happening on school campuses was on the rise. He realized that educating students about drug use could prove more efficient than just punishing them. As Gates told the L.A. Times in 1993: ‘We had ‘buy programs’ in the schools where undercover officers would buy drugs from students. We kept buying more and more. It was appalling, depressing. I finally said: ‘This is crazy. We’ve got to do something.’ The purpose of D.A.R.E. was “to prevent use of controlled drugs, membership in gangs, and violent behavior.” However, the message D.A.R.E actually portrayed was that “drugs are bad”, and “just say no.” However, it’s not that simple. It’s not that black and white. This was one of D.A.R.E.’s early missteps.
Education was the philosophy that catapulted D.A.R.E. to commercial success. Only reason I say, “commercial success”, is because there are many reasons experts believe D.A.R.E. did nothing to persuade students from doing drugs. Despite this, the program preached education and the uplifting of self-esteem. D.A.R.E. believed that if the students simply understood the dangers and pitfalls that come with substance abuse, they would ultimately say no to drugs. If they impowered the teens self-esteem, and made their will power strong, drugs would be avoided. But if this were true; why didn’t it work? According to Lt. Joe Laramie, “DARE program’s philosophy is a partnership between the parents, the school, and law enforcement”. According to Lt. Laramie, DARE’s philosophy doesn’t just rely on one aspect. It takes a community of people to make DARE work.
SMART experts were against Chief Gates handing this brand-new experimental education to the LAPD. However, that’s exactly what happened. Gates believed that cops understood the criminal culture and drugs. He regarded police officers as more adept than teachers, and therefore more credible to teach the subject to students. So, in 1983 September, the LAPD entered elementary classrooms and began educating students about drug abuse and the importance of self-esteem. It didn’t take long for it to spread like wildfire. DARE became a national phenomenon. Its popularity was largely due to the support it received from athletes and politicians. DARE received many funds to continue its drug prevention program. By 1986, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) published the first independent evaluation of DARE. NIJ reported DARE had short-term results. Despite all this criticism, DARE earned NIJ funding as a result of the study. DARE also acquired a $140,000 grant from the Department of Justice to help expand the program. From its catchy media commercials, to even President Ronald Reagan proclaiming “National DARE Day” in 1988. Politicians believed this was a simple fix to the “drug problem.” By backing up DARE, they were supporting cops and teens at the same time. By the early 90’s DARE was instituted in nearly 75% of the nation’s schools. One reason DARE was flawed from the beginning is because the officer’s education the course didn’t use realistic scenarios. One scenario might play out lie this. The officer would offer the students drugs. “Hey kid, you want to go smoke some crack.” Then the classroom would reply in unison. “No thanks. I’ve got basketball practice.” Then the officer would try one more time to convince the kids do to this imaginary drug that wasn’t even present. “Aww man. I thought you were cool.” And of course, the young kids would reply with a smug comment. “Not doing drugs is COOL.” Then the officer would ask what did you learn today? They didn’t learn anything! It’s really easy to say no to a cop. Not so much when you’re on the streets, and a real drug hustler ask you if you want some free candy. And tells you if you want some more, come back and see me. Honestly, if they could have used more realistic scenarios, DARE could have been more effective in preventing teenagers from drug abuse.
After many years of popular success and infiltrating nearly 75% of the nation’s school, DARE received its first evaluation review from National Institute of Justice (NIJ) in 1986. NIJ found that DARE only had short term results. Despite these criticism from many science experts, DARE still received funds from NIJ. This was by far not the last review of DARE. By the early 90’s, DARE had received dozens of studies that concluded DARE was not effective. In 1991, the University of Illinois concluded that DARE had yet to “alter students’ behaviors toward drugs.” In 1994, Research Triangle Institute conducted a meta-analysis of all the research that had been done in previous years. The results were devastating: DARE had nearly no impact on teen drug abuse. This discover was so catastrophic that the Department of Justice refused to print these findings, according to news reports at the time. Many studies following RTI’s found similar results. DARE wasn’t working. One study even went as far as to comment that DARE was actually having a negative impact on kids doing drugs and made drugs more appealing. DARE couldn’t believe these results. They believed if they told these kids about the dangers of drugs, it would deter teens from doing these fatal substances. It wasn’t that simple. By the early 2000’s, DARE’s funding’s had begun to decline. From 2002 to 2012, DARE’s funding’s had gone from over 10 million to a mere 3.5 million. DARE new they had to change. Their most noticeable change was the “keepin’ it REAL” curriculum. DARE stopped using fear tactics and ridiculous and unrealistic scenarios, and opted to focus on safety, honesty, and responsibility. DARE is no longer an anti-drug program, but a program that’s focusing on teaching kids to make good decision choices and live safe and healthy lives.
I believe the early DARE programs of the 80’s and 90’s were complete trash. The plethora of research proves this to be right. One early pitfall of the DARE program was the decision to let untrained police officers educate the kids. I understand Chief Gates reasoning, but it was clearly flawed. Without proper training, these officers were basically scaring the young kids. Another issue I had was that DARE decided to target young kids. I believe they were far too young to experience these drug teachings. Research showed that teens who went through DARE as kids, often would remember these drugs they learned as kids, and try them. According to psychologist William Colson argued that DARE increased drug awareness in young kids, and as they grew older, they became very curious about the drugs that were mentioned by the police officers. DARE should have implemented their program to older kids, so they can still talk about drugs, but not sugar coat the real issues and dangers about drugs. Drugs can lead to death. Furthermore, I believe that DARE should have taken a more psychological and social stance. Explain that drug substance abuse is more common is urban, disenfranchised poor neighborhoods. Why is that? Conceived that drugs are simply a symptom. Focused on why teens take drugs in the first place. Depression, mental stability, just bored? If DARE would have gave thought to these types of methods, it would have been far more effective and successful.
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