Ari Abramson for DRCNet
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson has pulled the plug on DARE, the politically popular but widely criticized drug prevention program that uses uniformed police officers in the schools to warn students away from drugs. After cutting funds for DARE from the city budget, Anderson told a July 12th meeting of concerned PTA officers, parents, and DARE program employees that the school board should choose another drug prevention program for the fall semester.
He called DARE "a fraud upon the people of America."
The city had funded DARE to the tune of $289,000 annually since 1987. The money paid for police officers who taught the program to the city's fifth-graders.
But Anderson said the program was not working. Citing studies from the Centers for Disease Control, he noted that marijuana use among Salt Lake teenagers had increased from 7 to 11% since 1991 and cocaine use increased from 5 to 7%. Ecstasy use among Salt Lake high school seniors has increased 56% in one year from 1998 to 1999.
In a July 30th op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune, Anderson elaborated. Noting that DARE America president Glenn Levant had called the program "the most successful drug abuse and violence program in the nation," Anderson replied that Levant was correct only if "success" was defined as the amount of tax and foundation dollars spent on the program.
In the same op-ed, Anderson also used other peer-reviewed scientific research to impeach the program's effectiveness. He cited a Research Triangle Institute (RTI) study commissioned by the Justice Department that found that DARE's effect on drug use was statistically insignificant, except for tobacco.
He also cited the longest follow-up study of DARE's efficacy, in which researchers writing in the Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology noted that "the widespread popularity of DARE is especially noteworthy, given the lack of evidence for its efficacy." The researchers concluded that "the preponderance of evidence suggests that DARE has no long term effect on drug use."
DARE proponents were not pleased, but proved unable to marshal much evidence to rebut Anderson. When asked by the Tribune to respond to Anderson's critique, Kathy Stewart, president of the Utah DARE Officers association, said, "I don't have any numbers for you." In an apparent appeal to mysticism as a basis for evaluating drug prevention programs, she said, "Our strongest numbers are the ones that don't show up."
Stewart, along with about 50 protesters, some of them uniformed police officers, held a July 29th rally in Salt Lake. At the rally, Utah Council on Crime Prevention executive director Tibby Milne supported DARE, arguing that the program had changed its curriculum since the critical national studies. But mayoral aide Monica Shelton, who attended the rally, told the Tribune she went in case DARE proponents unveiled any new studies supporting the program.
"And there's not," said Shelton. "These are things he's looked at for years, even before he was in office."
The Salt Lake school board is considering an alternate drug prevention education program called Prevention Dimensions for the fall semester. Under that program, teachers, not police, teach the curriculum, which emphasizes responsibility, contributing to the community, honesty, goal-setting, and self-discipline. According to the program, none of these values can be attained by drug users.
Anderson is critical of Prevention Dimensions, too. He wrote that its effectiveness had not been proven. Instead, Anderson recommended the school board adopt two cutely acronymic programs, START (Students Taught Awareness and Resistance) and ATLAS (Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids).
Extensive information on the DARE program can be found online at http://www.drcnet.org/DARE/.