Does the New DARE Program Work?

2 min read · 3 sections

If you attended grade school between 1983 and 2009, then you almost certainly participated in a Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, or DARE. In fact, the DARE program was eventually implemented in 75% of U.S. schools in the 1990’s and cost taxpayers an estimated $600 million to $750 million per year. Although immensely popular among school officials and politicians, scientific studies continue to show that the old DARE program simply did not work. Due to a faulty curriculum, War on Drugs hysteria, and political motivations, the old DARE program was destined to fail.

However, over the last decade, a new DARE program and curriculum emerged. For multiple reasons, prevention specialists tend to believe this new Dare program works. In fact, several controlled studies of the new curriculum, called “keepin’ it REAL,” have shown a reduction in student drug use compared to peers who did not participate. In only a few years, the new DARE program has succeeded after the staggeringly expensive, decades-long initiative of the old DARE program.drug free school zone sign

Differences Between the Old and New Dare Programs

In hindsight, the old DARE program seemed fundamentally flawed from the beginning. In the 1980’s, the War on Drugs and Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaigns had caused widespread fear. As American parents became increasingly paranoid, school systems were desperate for any type of child-focused drug prevention program. In 1983, the Los Angeles police department created DARE in collaboration with the L.A. school system. DARE’s original curriculum was not created by substance abuse and prevention specialists, unlike the new DARE program’s curriculum. It was the paranoia of the time, not effectiveness, that offered an environment for the DARE program to sweep the nation.

The growth of the old DARE program was due largely to politicians and school systems. Stakeholders who profited from selling DARE-related materials also added to the growth of the program. The new DARE program’s oversight board is DARE America, a nonprofit organization comprised of substance abuse and prevention specialists. The growth of the new DARE program is also dependent on continued studies of efficacy; not political considerations. Along with the differences in origins, oversight, and organizational makeup, the curriculum and content of the new Dare program is markedly different than the old DARE program.

Main Tenets of The New Dare Program

Many of us can remember the old DARE lessons. Often, a uniformed police officer delivered a 45-minute lecture on the dangers of drug use, which proved to be counterproductive in preventing drug use among students. Instead, the new DARE program’s curriculum involves 10 45-minute lessons that consist of five situational videos and short, eight-minute lectures. The rest of the time is dedicated to experiential and role-playing activities among small groups of students.

The new DARE’s program, keepin’ it REAL, stands for Refuse. Explain. Avoid. Leave. Overall, the program is intended to improve decision-making and communication skills through peer interaction and role-playing scenarios. The program also addresses coping skills, assessing risk, support networks, and emotional and mental health topics. In addition, the new DARE program works to target dissimilar student backgrounds. The keepin’ in REAL program is offered in three versions: multicultural, rural, and Spanish.

Does the New Dare Program Succeed Moving Forward?

happy teens talking after the new dare program ends
While the old DARE program ultimately failed, the new DARE program has addressed and corrected many of DARE’s past mistakes. Instead of a program based on lectures, media hysteria, politics, and profits, the new DARE’s program has based its curriculum on science and peer interaction. Oversight is provided by an advisory board of prevention specialist and substance abuse experts.

In a changing, more diverse America, the new DARE program also seems equipped to provide a more culturally competent program. While it’s impossible to predict the future, the new DARE program is an important example that substance abuse prevention programs can and should incorporate continuing scientific studies and new, more nuanced approaches.

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