Stossel: Drug Program Doesn't Work

May 25, 2001 -- For two decades, the "experts" have been coming into schools and warning the kids about the perils of drug use. The vast majority of students in the country have had to sit through a policeman's lecture about "just saying no."

The biggest drug education program in America is called Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE. The government gives DARE hundreds of millions of your tax dollars every year, which the organization spends on signs, T-shirts, teaching kids to chant anti-drug slogans, and most of all, having cops give lectures.

The DARE program is now used in most of America's schools, taking up lots of police time and kids' learning time. But does it work? Does it deter drug use? No.

Although DARE has claimed short-term success, now we have dozens of studies — most recently from the surgeon general, the Journal of Clinical Psychology, and the National Academy of Sciences — saying that "DARE does not work to reduce substance use." One study even found that DARE students used drugs slightly more often than kids who didn't attend the lectures.

DARE's usual response to the criticism is to say its program is changing. The organization's president, Glenn Levant, explains, "DARE is evolving as research tells what is the most effective techniques to use with children."

So they're evolving, fine, but while they evolve, you're paying for it and you're not getting much for your money. Over the past years teenage drug use has been increasing. Some drug educators say it's because the message programs like DARE give is unrealistic.

Remember the famous "This is your brain on drugs" TV commercial? That doesn't connect with what many young people see in real life — their peers who are experimenting with drugs may not be frying their brains.

And it doesn't help that rich and famous people — even world leaders — have acknowledged that they used drugs. "By the time young people enter about seventh or eighth grade, they come to believe that they're not being told the truth about drugs," says Joel Brown, who is the author of a study on drug education.

DARE now at least admits that there's a problem, and says it is now undertaking "the most significant revision of the DARE Program." Wonderful. But this is the 10th such revision, and none has been proven to work.

Meanwhile, kids in 80 percent America's school districts are listening to a policeman lecture every week for 17 weeks.

And it's paid for with your money. Give me a break.