23. The Biggest Drug Bust of All

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Sources: USA TODAY, Date: 10/11/93, Title: “Studies find drug program not effective,” Author: Dennis Cauchon; PREVENTION FILE, Date: Fall 1993, Title: “Schools and Prevention: What’s the Right Mix?,” Author: University of California at San Diego Extension

SSU Censored Researcher: Katie Maloney

SYNOPSIS: In 1983, Daryl Gates, then Los Angeles police chief, created DARE-Drug Abuse Resistance Education-to fight drug abuse in American schools. The program and its catchy slogan-“DARE To Keep Kids Off Drugs”-exploded nationally, and internationally, after the Bush administration gave it heavy federal subsidies.

Today DARE is the nation’s leading drug education program, reaching five million fifth-graders in 60 percent of school districts. It’s in all 50 states and several foreign countries, including Australia, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, and Canada. It’s on bumper stickers, T-­shirts, KFC boxes; its national ambassador is Arsenio Hall and junk-bond king Michael Milken is doing his community service for securities fraud at a DARE pro­gram; it’s a favorite of dozens of members of Congress and an always popular subject of the news media. Taxpayers, police, and busi­nesses give it $700 million a year to operate.

It’s a drug-fighting miracle… except for one thing-it just doesn’t work. And DARE’s biggest supporter, law enforcement, has known that for at least six years. Since 1987, studies conducted at more than 100 schools in the U.S. and Canada have produced the same results: “[There were] no sta­tistically significant differences between experimental groups and control groups in the percentage of new users of … cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, alcohol, marijuana.” A Canadian government study found that “DARE had no significant effect on the students’ use of any of the substances measured.” The study tested for substances in­cluding tobacco, beer, soda, mari­juana, acid, Valium, wine, aspirin, uppers, downers, heroin, crack, cocaine, liquor, candy, glue, and PCP

Gilbert Botvin, of the Institute for Prevention at Cornell University Medical Center, flatly stated, “It’s well-established that DARE doesn’t work.” A national conference on schools and drug prevention, held at UC-San Diego, in March 1993, concluded: “A review of a number of DARE evaluations has found that the program had little or no effect on the use of drugs by stu­dents.” An analysis of eight vali­dated studies found that DARE had a substantial effect on knowl­edge about drugs, a modest effect on social skills, and a more limited effect on self-esteem and children’s attitudes toward law enforcement. But, the analysis concluded, DARE’s affect on students’ actual drug-use was “limited to essen­tially nonexistent.”

William Hansen, of the Wake Forest University Medical School in Winston Salem, NC, helped design the original DARE program in 1983. Hansen told the group, “I think the program should be entirely scrapped and redeveloped anew.” The conference also found: “Publishing and marketing anti-­drug curriculum materials have become big business, and some of the best-selling programs have turned out to have the least impres­sive results when their outcomes are given an objective evaluation.”

Nonetheless, DARE continues to have high-level support; on September 9-National DARE Day (by congressional decree)-DARE officials and students met with dozens of Congress members, Attorney General Janet Reno, and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Given the consistent negative results of all the studies, it is time for a major reappraisal of the DARE program and a possible redi­rection of the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on it.

COMMENTS: Not surprisingly, Dennis Cauchon’s article on DARE generated some heated denials that the program was failing. Gilbert Botvin said he was surprised to see himself quoted in the USA Today story since he had not done any research or written any reports on DARE. However, Cauchon told Project Censored that his story con­tinues to hold up. “It was well-doc­umented,” Cauchon said, “and all the data were taken from reliable studies.”

However, Cauchon went on to say that there was another story he felt was very important and even more neglected. It has two parts:

“1) The U.S. is now imple­menting a policy of mass imprison­ment, although it is never described this way. Historically, the U.S. incarceration rate has been about one per 300 adults. But since 1980, the number of prisoners has swelled, because of the drug war, from 500,000 to 1.4 million, pushing the incarceration rate to nearly one per 100 adults. This macro issue of how much of society ought we to imprison is never dis­cussed.

“2) The drug war and changes in the criminal justice system (over the last 13 years) have reversed fun­damental and longstanding rights and procedures that protected people against government power. The result has been an increase in the application of police power against the powerless, especially minorities, the poor, etc. The truth is in the details. The particulars of the war on drugs and the “get tough” on crime effort are seldom written about in newspapers. (Actually, many major metros do excellent stuff; it’s just The New York Times and Washington Post that never do anything.) … Police have been given a broad license to exercise power in the last 10 years, a massive amount of new funds, the right to seize property and keep it for police use, etc., and all these issues are playing out on the street every day. Yet they are never cov­ered.”