After months of criticism, here and elsewhere, the people who head the DARE program nationwide have admitted their program is a failure. Last week, officials of the program, whose acronym stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, said they are coming up with a revamped program — one they have been working on for two years.
This raises several question, not the least of which is why DARE's leaders strongly defended it against recent criticisms when they apparently knew at least some of the complaints were true. For two years they have been working quietly on changes based on evidence that DARE wasn't working, yet they were happy to continue accepting taxpayer money from school districts. Not only that, they often impugned the motives of their critics, attacking them as hiding an agenda to legalize drugs.
Recently, studies by the National Academy of Sciences and the surgeon general have shown the program to be flawed. Now the program's critics, including Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, who last year withdrew support from DARE in the Salt Lake School District, now have gained a good measure of credibility.
Any program that receives public support should be made to account for its effectiveness. DARE has been in use in schools since the early 1980s, and yet it had never been made to show that it was keeping children away from harmful drugs. The program relies on police officers to visit schools and teach about drug prevention. Evidence suggests the program may even have encouraged drug use by making it seem as if more people were doing it than was actually the case.
Now, DARE officials say they will use a different approach, targeting older students and encouraging them to influence each other in discussion groups. Police officers would serve as helpers only. The new approach is being funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through a $13.7 million grant.
But other programs already use this approach. ATLAS, a program designed primarily to keep athletes off of steroids and other harmful drugs, is in use in the Salt Lake District and has apparently been shown to work.
The most important consideration here must be the welfare of the rising generation. Far too many young people have succumbed to the seductive, addictive and, ultimately, destructive culture of drug abuse. Today, many youths naively think drugs such as "ecstasy" are harmless, putting their futures at risk for what they hope will be a few hours of fun.
That has to stop. Utah's schools can't afford to hang onto a program that doesn't work. Too much is at stake. From now on, school districts should demand accountability from any drug-resistance program they use.