D.A.R.E. to Admit It Doesn’t Work
by Marissa K. Lingen
In junior high, the drug-free group was the place to be. It sponsored “drug-free alternative” social activities like dances and lock-ins. Since we were in junior high, most of us didn’t have any other alternatives. Project Free events were safe and almost everybody was there. I was an enthusiastic member and even got involved in an outreach to the grade schools. I was sure that I was making a difference. I knew that I wouldn’t have done any drugs anyway, but if I could influence even one of the younger kids, what a great thing that would be!
Today, I think that was a mistake. It was possibly a harmless one, but still a mistake. Junior high was the peak of involvement in anti-drug activities, for the pretty obvious reasons mentioned above. When we got to high school, all of a sudden there were lots of choices. There was still an anti-drug group, but there was also debate, newspaper, band, Academic Decathlon, Key Club… school-sponsored dances and games… parties with old friends or the new group of older kids… in short, nobody really needed to do stuff that was focused around being drug-free. There were plenty of alternatives that had nothing to do with drugs or preaching about them. The anti-drug group dwindled to a small, dedicated clique, and I drifted into other weekend activities.
Soon, I discovered, the Red Ribbon anti-drug week was a joke, and only stoners wore D.A.R.E. T-shirts. (Many of our teachers evidently had to look up “irony” in the dictionary.) As I joined the adult world after high school, I learned that my experience was pretty typical. Studies have shown that D.A.R.E. makes absolutely no difference in whether people use drugs or not. None. Perhaps, some might think, the difference will come in involvement levels. Surely, they say, if we could get more people to stay involved in the anti-drug group in high school, all would be well.
There’s a problem with defining your life around being drug-free (or, as the focus increasingly became in high school, drug- and alcohol-free). It still makes drugs the center of your life. As gossip trickled back from college, I was horrified to learn that a few of the anti-drug stalwarts had become big enough drug users to end their college careers. Many of the rest had gotten to college and subjected themselves to binge drinking and other high risk behaviors. So what went wrong?
Not only had the drug-free group encouraged people to define their lives around pharmaceuticals or the lack thereof, it had also given misinformation about how drug use affected people. While I was far too young to be subjected to “Reefer Madness” propaganda, the results were not that far off. The simplified messages– “Drugs ruin your life” and “Pot kills brain cells” –made it clear that one toke, one hit, the tiniest little bit of drug use would be disastrous.
Well, I hate to inform Barry McCaffrey of this, but there are lots of casual pot-smokers in America’s colleges. (For the record, I do not smoke pot, nor have I ever.) There are scores of kids who tried it once and didn’t like it or thought it wasn’t worth the price or the risk. When you get to college, no matter what college, it’s pretty easy to look around your hall and find someone who drinks or smokes pot casually and has not ruined his or her life to date. This undermines the entire extremist message our government-run drug “education” programs are hell-bent on getting to the nation’s youth. Once it’s clear that you’ve been had, it’s easy to ignore the whole spiel. But the drug czar and his many adherents don’t want to admit all the inconsistencies and lies in their programs. They think that America’s kids are too dumb to “just say no” with the real information about drugs’ effects and too dumb to find out that heroin and marijuana are not the same thing and have wildly different danger levels. Kids are supposed to grunt, “Drugs bad! D.A.R.E. good!” And, sadly, their parents go along with it.
I don’t want to downplay the danger of illegal drugs. They do have large, potentially devastating effects. But lumping pot in with crack is only going to increase distrust in the system and the “education” it’s given us. (On the whole, that might not be a bad thing.)
The drug policy gurus could do themselves and the nation a huge favor by admitting their defeat. At minimum, students would have more time to learn things like math and writing. But the best thing that could happen is getting rid of groups that focus kids’ lives on drugs from an early age and lie to them about consequences. That’s much more destructive than an underage sip of wine.