How Should Schools Educate Teens About Drugs?

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D.A.R.E. stands for "drug abuse resistance education" and is a program that has been in schools since the 80s to prevent youth from doing drugs. Schools widely accepted the program all over the country for decades, until scientists found it wasn't really effective. Fast forward to the present day and D.A.R.E as made a comeback... sort of. Myles investigates how D.A.R.E. has changed its curriculum and other ways that drug education is being taught in schools. Join him in answering the question: How should schools educate teens about drugs?

TEACHERS: Get your students in the discussion on KQED Learn, a safe place for middle and high school students to investigate controversial topics and share their voices. Click to see this video and lesson plan on KQED Learn.

What is D.A.R.E?

D.A.R.E stands for drug abuse resistance education. It brings police officers into classrooms to teach students drug prevention, with the prevailing belief being that any amount of drug use, no matter how small, is harmful to the individual AND to society. D.A.R.E began in the early 80s in LA, but by the 90s it had gone national in nearly 75 percent of all school districts.

Was D.A.R.E effective?


According to the science, not really. The “just say no” to drugs message at best worked in the short term, but wore off within a year or two. At the end of the day, having students say “no” just doesn’t leave a lasting impact on most of them because they’re parroting back a message to an adult. It doesn’t mimic real-life situations where they will need to say no to friends and other students.

Is the new D.A.R.E of today a better version of the original?

In 2008, D.A.R.E adopted a new school curriculum called “Keepin’ It Real”. Keepin’ It Real was developed at a university by researchers that study and understand drugs and addiction and how that stuff affects the adolescent brain. And it’s different from the old, zero-tolerance D.A.R.E in that it’s not about “just saying no” and instead is more focused on helping students with their decision-making skills. Police officers have been re-trained so it’s more interactive and less based on lectures. And students can have discussions with other students. Studies conducted by the two researchers who created the program show it’s effective at reducing drug use and helping students resist peer pressure. But not everyone in the public health community is convinced the new D.A.R.E is much better than the previous program. One peer-reviewed study came to the conclusion that the evidence is “weak” and that it “may not be suited for nationwide implementation.”

What is "harm reduction"?

Harm reduction describes an approach to public health issues such as teen drug abuse. Rather than a zero-tolerance philosophy, harm reduction is focused on helping people make more informed decisions about their own health and reducing the negative health impacts if they DO choose to do the behavior. With harm reduction, how you measure success is not, “Are students doing drugs less?” Instead, it’s how safe are they if they do drugs or are around drugs. For example, knowing how edible cannabis might affect you vs. smoking it. Or how to recognize the symptoms of an overdose and how best to respond to it. When harm reduction is taught well, it’s been proven to prevent death, injury, disease, overdose, and substance misuse. And one thing you WON’T find in harm reduction programs is police officers. There is an inherent conflict of interest in law enforcement talking to students about healthier choices around using illegal substances. And for many students from communities with a history of tense or even abusive relationships with law enforcement, police officers may not be the best messengers for talking honestly about drug use.


Why anti-drug campaigns like DARE fail 

This article by Vox investigates why anti-drug campaigns that promote zero tolerance are not effective.

A brief history of DARE, the anti-drug program Jeff Sessions wants to revive

This article in the Washington Post summarizes the history of the D.A.R.E. Program in American schools up until its modern day curriculum shift.

The New D.A.R.E. Program—This One Works

This article from Scientific American focuses on how the new D.A.R.E. curriculum emphasizes decision-making and behavior-changing techniques instead of a no-tolerance approach to drug use.

Drug Education Curriculum Moves Beyond ‘Just Say No’ to Teach Harm Reduction

In this article in Ed Week, the author explores a new health education curriculum that centers on harm reduction rather than an abstinence approach to drug use.

Coming to the new D.A.R.E.: A preliminary test of the officer-taught elementary keepin' it REAL curriculum

This research study published in the Addicted Behaviors Journal is the first evaluation of the new D.A.R.E. curriculum and shows after the program students had higher social and emotional skills.

Truth and D.A.R.E.: Is D.A.R.E.’s new Keepin’ it REAL curriculum suitable for American nationwide implementation?  

This research study published in the Drugs, Education, Prevention and Policy Journal explores the effectiveness of D.A.R.E. 's new Keepin it REAL curriculum with results showing mixed reviews as an intervention for youth.