DARE – Drug Abuse Prevention that doesn’t work

  • DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is the largest school-based drug abuse prevention program in the United States.
  • 80% of school districts across the country teach the DARE curriculum, reaching an estimated 26 million children (1).
  • Every year, over $1 billion goes into keeping the program running. A billion dollars may be a small price to pay to keep America’s children drug-free, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that DARE isn’t doing what it’s supposed to.

What is DARE?

dareFounded in 1983, DARE began as a 17 week long course taught to 5th and 6th graders. The course is taught by a uniformed police officer who teaches the students about drug use and gang violence. The DARE curriculum includes role-playing, written assignments, presentations, and group discussions.

DARE uses a zero tolerance policy towards drug use. Students are told to adopt mottoes like “Drug free is the way to be” and “Just say no to drugs!” Pictures of blackened lungs and drunk driving accidents are methods used to discourage experimentation. The focus of the program is clearly flat out refusal. Students are not taught what to do if they are already experiencing problems with drugs.

Is DARE effective?

The effectiveness of DARE has been called into question since the early 90s. A meta-analysis of 11 studies conducted from 1991-2002 shows no significant effect of DARE in reducing drug use (1). Several studies have even reported an opposite effect, with DARE leading to higher rates of drug use later on in life. Reports from the California Department of Education, American Psychological Association, and U.S. Surgeon General all label DARE as ineffective.

The results seem clear, but statistics don’t seem to be enough to convince concerned parents and policy makers to shut down any drug abuse prevention program. With drug use on the rise, it seems that DARE is here to stay. But perhaps getting rid of DARE isn’t the best option. The framework and funding already exist for a potentially successful prevention program. Maybe all we need to do is apply some science and develop new techniques that will provide results.

*It should be noted that in 2001, DARE made substantial revisions to its program under the title “New DARE.” The effects of these revisions have yet to be measured, so we’ll wait and see.

 

Citation:

1. West, S.L., O’Neal, K.K. (2004) Project D.A.R.E. Outcome Effectiveness Revisited. American Journal of Public Health. 94(6)

Doctor prescription drug use: Addiction fears no one

The story published today by the Baltimore Sun (see here) is another sad reminder that no one is safe from addiction.

Two doctors of pharmacology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine were apparently developing quite a drug habit buying prescription drugs online and then cooking them and shooting them up. Now one of them is dead and the other is in jail looking at some serious time.

I’m not going to repeat the whole story here, but you should go read it.  Prescription drug use is a growing problem in the U.S., apparently, like other addictions, it doesn’t discriminate.

Addiction causes – Learned self regulation and its possible benefits for drug use problems

In the first part of this little series on addiction cause and self-regulation I talked about some of the genetic influence on impulsivity that have been shown to also be related to drug use.

In this next part, I want to drive home some recent ideas regarding learning related to self-regulation.

It’s no secret that diagnoses like ADD and ADHD have been seen with much greater frequency in the last decade or so. Slight variations on the same theme, both of these disorders have to do with a person’s (usually a child) inability to appropriately control their impulses and behave appropriately.

The debate about the sources of the large increase in these diagnoses is still ongoing. Some think that they are nothing but an inflated push for pharmaceutical treatment by those who stand to profit from the sale of Adderall, Ritalin, and the likes.

However, if you talk to the parents of the children being diagnosed with these disorders, they’ll be the first to tell you that even though they can’t put their fingers on it, something’s up with their kids…

Tin Can PhoneA recent educational program in New Jersey (at the Geraldyn O. Foster Early Childhood Center) tries to instill in children the concept of internal regulation by making pretend play rules explicit. Children talk to their teachers before embarking on their next imaginary adventure in order to lay out everybody’s role. The idea is that by the generation of internal rules, the children become more aware of how social rules regarding behavior are dependent on their specific role in a given environment.

The creators of the program believe that children’s play in the recent past has become more and more structured. They believe that video-games, explicit toys, and constant oversight have reduced children’s ability to take on roles and depend on their own mind for the rules of behavior.

Adele Diamond, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, has found that children in the program performed much better (up to 35% better) than other children in tests of executive function. It should be noted that the program doesn’t claim, and hasn’t been shown to, get rid of attention-deficit problems in kids that have been diagnosed. Rather overall cognitive function for kids in the program seems improved.

More research on this program is ongoing, but the initial results seem to indicate that educational and developmental aspects of a child’s life can impact their ability to have internal oversight. This is obviously promising and upsetting all at once.

No parent intentionally places their child at a disadvantage, but it seems that the most recent trends of “electronic babysitting” we’ve become so accustomed to may in fact be impacting children in unintended, discouraging ways.

The connection to addiction again has to do with general impulse control problems. Less executive control leaves children generally more vulnerable to behaviors that can be detrimental to their future. As I’d mentioned in one of my earlier posts, most of the negative impact of drug use on the lives of users is not related to long term addictive use. Instead, it is the acute (as in quick and short lasting) negative impact of things like unintended pregnancy, motor accidents, and legal troubles and arrest, that end up impacting adolescent drug users.

Maybe by making our children better able to control their actions, we can protect them from a host of possible problems, including drug use…

Question of the day:
How much of your childhood was spent in relatively free play and how much of it was structured?
How, if at all, do you feel that these different activities have affected the kind of self-control you can, or can’t exert?

Beyond my addiction: Allowing myself to be proud of my achievements

This is a more personal post than I’m used to writing, but I think the thoughts in it are shared by many addicts, so I’d like to share it. I originally posted it on my personal blog:

It’s sad, but for the most part, I focus on the things I haven’t yet done and not on what I’ve already accomplished.

When I think about it for a few seconds, it’s staggering just how much I’ve managed to do in my 32 years here:

  • I spent my first 14 years having a wonderful childhood
  • I only let my obsessions during those years take over sometimes
  • I moved to a new country and made myself at home again
  • I dug myself out of a severe depression episode
  • I made it through college somehow in a haze of drinking and drug use
  • I moved myself out to Los Angeles without knowing a soul and made a life there
  • I’ve run a recording studio, a record label, and made my own music
  • I’ve DJ’d and put out two records
  • I’ve broken my leg and learned how to walk again
  • I held my head high through a brutal court case
  • I made my way through rehab, overcoming my addiction to crystal meth
  • I made it through months in jail
  • I’ve managed to stay drug free since those two events
  • I’ve gotten myself back into school
  • I received two Master’s degrees with endless honors and awards
  • I’m steps away from finishing my PhD
  • I’ve secured a book deal to publish my memoir/lessons from addiction (still struggling with the writing of that one)
  • I’ve published more than 10 articles, 2 book chapters, and given dozens of presentations at national and international addiction conferences
  • I found the love of my life and am working hard to make my damaged ego last through a real relationship

I often take these things for granted, but it’s good to write them down. It lets me know just how grateful I should be for even being here, let alone standing upright and proud.

I’m lucky.

UCLA students speaking out about drug use… kind of.

A recent article in UCLA’s daily newspaper presented the stories of two current students who left behind a life of drug use and petty drug dealing to focus on more long-term priorities, namely school.

The students, who used pseudonyms for obvious reasons, show us once again that it is possible to turn around a lifestyle that many deem inescapable.

I think that one of the biggest obstacles to the advancement of drug addiction treatment in our society is the stigma associated with having taken part in drug use in the first place.

It’s difficult to get the stories of those who’ve made it out while they’re hiding in the shadows.

In the meantime, what we get instead is the story of those who fail in the most spectacular fashion. They don’t care enough about the stigma to shy away from revealing their story and truthfully, no one gives them a choice.

I hope this story reminds people that having a past does not doom one to eternal suffering in oblivion.

There is hope…