The nation's drug-policy director probably didn't like what he'd read in the New York Times about Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson. But before traveling to Utah this week, Gen. Barry McCaffrey arranged a meeting with the mayor to discuss something the two men couldn't disagree on more: Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE.
"All the peer-reviewed research shows that DARE is a complete waste of money and, even worse, fritters away the opportunity to implement a good drug-prevention program in schools," Anderson said in the Sept. 16 Times article. In a later story, McCaffrey was quoted as calling DARE "the premier drug-prevention program." The majority of U.S. public school teachers use DARE, which means they bring in police officers to teach their drug-prevention component of their classes.
So there they were on Wednesday with McCaffrey in town to convene the White House Task Force on Drugs and Sports in Salt Lake City and to ask Anderson why he canceled DARE earlier this year.
"I stressed my view that we should focus our resources on what we know to be effective: good prevention and treatment programs," Anderson said.
The mayor calls DARE miserably ineffective and says he has urged Salt Lake District Superintendent Darline Robles to examine other curriculum such as the Life Skills Training program and the ATLAS program for high school athletes. "There are good research-based, effective programs that apparently don't have the lobbying efforts behind them that DARE does," Anderson said.
Drug Strategies, a Washington, D.C., research group, rates drug-prevention curricula, and gave straight A's to Life Skills Training and STAR (Students Taught Awareness and Resistance). It gave lower grades to DARE.
"General McCaffrey dismissed Drug Strategies," Anderson said. The drug czar questioned the organization's credibility, saying it was funded by New York billionaire George Soros. Soros was a major backer of Initiative B, the measure approved by voters in November. Initiative B will alter the state's forfeiture laws to increase protections for third-party individuals whose property is used in committing a crime and then seized by police.
Soros isn't behind Drug Strategies, according to Anderson; the Kansas Health Foundation and Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation are among its grantors.
Anderson also regaled McCaffrey with published studies about drug education around the United States. Anderson said, "I pointed out that there hasn't been one research article in a peer-reviewed journal reflecting that DARE is effective. On the other hand, there have been numerous peer-reviewed studies finding that DARE is absolutely ineffective and a waste of money. He challenged me on that. But he was unable to cite anything that supports his long-held position on DARE. I gave him my card" and told him to call if he found any such research.
As if the meeting were not going badly enough, another inflammatory topic came up.
"He'd read," said Anderson, "that I'd advocated decriminalizing marijuana. I do not favor decriminalization. I do favor a different approach, once people are in the criminal-justice system, of treatment and education." If we're going to stage a war on drugs, he added, stage it in the states.
"We're still falling very far short when half of the people in this country with drug problems who are seeking treatment can't get into treatment programs," Anderson said. At the same time we're sending $1.3 billion to Colombia and what we're really doing is supporting one side in an internal conflict. There will not be one ounce of difference in the supply of cocaine on our streets."
In addition to funding more treatment programs, Anderson wants education spending stepped up.
"My view has always been that our schools have a huge responsibility to provide drug-prevention education," the mayor said. As it turned out, that's a point on which he and McCaffrey agree. Two days afterward, Anderson called their meeting "honest and interesting," and added, "I think it was productive inasmuch as we both agree that performance-enhancing drugs should be eliminated from both professional and amateur athletics, and great strides have been made in the Olympic movement. (McCaffrey) has played a huge role in that."
Anderson sees his own role as continuing to urge the Salt Lake School District to adopt a "research-based, proven, effective drug-prevention component, rather than a feel-good, 'just say no' program like DARE."