The nation’s most widely used substance-abuse prevention program, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), has no effect on seventh-graders, although an enhanced version of the program shows promise for boys, according to a study released yesterday.
Researchers found “no significant differences” in illegal drug usage or violence between DARE students and middle schoolers who didn’t participate in the program. It is taught by police officers in 80 percent of the country’s school districts.
But students enrolled in a new DARE program, called DARE Plus, were found to be less likely to use alcohol, tobacco or drugs than nonparticipants and were less likely to use tobacco or be involved in violence than their DARE counterparts, said the study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine this week.
DARE Plus has four sessions on peer pressure and the media, and involves parents and community leaders. Founded in 1983, DARE stresses personal responsibility and avoidance of substance abuse and violence, and can be taught in any grade, as well as after school.
This is the second study in recent weeks to criticize the popular anti-drug program: In January, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported to Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, about six long-term evaluations of the DARE elementary school curriculum.
There were “no significant differences” in drug use between fifth- and sixth-graders who took DARE classes and those who didn’t, the GAO said.
DARE has many funding sources, though a major source is allocations under the Department of Education’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act.
The new study on DARE involved 6,237 seventh-graders in 24 schools, said lead author Cheryl L. Perry, a professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. It was conducted under a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Eight of the schools used the 10-session DARE curriculum, while eight schools used the new DARE Plus curriculum. The remaining eight schools had no drug-prevention programs and served as a control group.
All students were questioned about their involvement with tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and violence at the beginning of seventh grade in 1999 and the end of eighth grade in 2001.
Among girls, DARE Plus students were less likely to report being drunk compared with girls in schools using DARE, but there were no other differences among girls in various programs.
The researchers concluded that DARE Plus was an effective intervention “for reducing increases in alcohol, tobacco and multidrug use, and victimization among adolescent boys,” and underscored the importance of “broadening” prevention programs to include parents, peers and other community members.
A spokesman for DARE America could not be reached. Its Web site says it has 30 independent studies showing that DARE works. It also is developing science-based curricula for ninth-graders with a $14 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.