Growing up in a suburban neighborhood and attending an incredibly small private school of upper-middle class families, my exposure to drugs in my childhood was confined to limited, but resounding, message of “Don’t do drugs. You’ll die.”
It was not until middle school when I switched from private to a public school that drugs were actually an issue that plagued the teenage population of America — and not just those who were from low-income families or bad neighborhoods in classes I would never dare step into. Upon realizing that many of my classmates who came from similar families as me and wore the same shoes as me, I was struck with the harsh reality that drugs are a problem that infiltrate every socioeconomic level of American society.
This, in part, can be accredited to the taboo we place around drugs, planting a seed of the “fear of the unknown” in children from a young age, starting with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program.
The DARE program came to fruition from a 1983 effort between the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Unified School District to reduce the repetitive cycle of criminal activity and arrest seen in low-income neighborhoods. However, despite the program’s positive intentions, DARE has often yielded negative consequences for its students. While the long-term effect of the initiative remains debated, a 2011 study revealed that students who underwent the program were “indistinguishable” from students who did not.
Regardless of its controverted influence, the government continuously funnels money into the continuation of the initiative instead of trying to improve it.
Today, DARE remains to be the leading substance abuse program in the world, reaching about 200 million K-12 students worldwide since its creation, with approximately 114 million of those students residing in the United States. Regardless, about 24.6 million American youth above the age of 12 had used some form of illicit drug in their lives and these statistics, unfortunately, seem to only be increasing. This shows that America’s current drug prevention program may not only be ineffective, but counterproductive as well.
Despite these poor results, the American government continues to funnel one to two billion dollars per year into these initiatives, with the DARE program having been endorsed by every United States president from its creation and following through to the Obama administration.
One of the reasons for the program’s incompetence is the use of one of its key slogans of “just say no.” This slogan, though seemingly harmless, promotes the idea of blind authority worship and does not provide students with the fundamental reasoning as to why they should abstain from drugs, which is a major problem with the initiative as a whole.
The DARE program and similar initiatives are what is wrong with the American government’s treatment of drugs. By creating an air of fear around the concept itself, we fail to educate students on the reasons as to why people indulge in drugs in the first place and establish a general understanding of the issues with substance abuse. Instead of continuing DARE, the program should be revised to give students a real understanding of the problem and the people it affects.