- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

The top three programs used by schools to keep students away from drugs are either ineffective or haven't been sufficiently tested, new research suggests.
In a study published Saturday in the journal Health Education Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers say many schools are using popular programs such as D.A.R.E., Here's Looking at You 2000 and McGruff's Drug Prevention and Child Protection, which despite years of use haven't shown the kind of results that schools should expect.
"It's not a very good use of taxpayer money," said Denise Hallfors, now a substance abuse prevention researcher at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a nonprofit group. She was at North Carolina when she did the research.
The study found that in spite of a decade of efforts from the federal government to promote proven programs, many schools still use "heavily marketed curricula that have not been evaluated, have been evaluated inadequately or have been shown to be ineffective in reducing substance abuse."
The most popular, D.A.R.E., Drug Abuse Resistance Education, was created by police officers in Los Angeles in 1983 to teach children about the dangers of drugs. More than 50,000 officers have been trained nationwide, and the program is being implemented in 80 percent of school districts.
In response to criticism that its program is ineffective, D.A.R.E America is conducting a five-year study to evaluate a new curriculum.
Charlie Parsons, executive director of D.A.R.E. America, said the research in Miss Hallfors' study refers to D.A.R.E.'s old curriculum, which is no longer used.
He also noted that D.A.R.E. officers get two weeks of training, unlike many other programs, which are run by for-profit organizations.
"The strength of D.A.R.E. is that the implementation and the fidelity always get high marks, because of the training involved," he said.
Miss Hallfors' study, which polled 104 school districts in 11 states and the District of Columbia, showed that many schools are using research-based programs, but that they often don't train teachers adequately or don't use all the materials available.
Only one in three school districts used the programs effectively, the study showed.
She also said federal funding for such programs about $5 per child annually isn't enough, since school districts need to hire a full-time coordinator.
"If you're getting $4,000 a year, you're not able to hire that person," Miss Hallfors said.
The survey included school districts in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin.
Other researchers have found that illegal drug use among teenagers has remained level or decreased over the past several years.
A July survey showed that drug, alcohol and cigarette use among sixth- to 12th-graders dropped to the lowest level since 1994, partly because adults are warning students about drug use and encouraging youths to nurture other interests.

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