D.A.R.E. (https://dare.org/) stands for “Drug Abuse Resistance Education.” its goal is to teach “students healthy decision making for safe and healthy living.” The program was established in Los Angeles in the 1980s as a partnership between the school district and the police department. It emphasized elementary school-aged children at its inception.
D.A.R.E. is still based in the United States (D.A.R.E. America) and operates in more than 50 other countries. Beginning in 2007, D.A.R.E. identified nine drug prevention programs and began a collaborative project with them, which resulted in the development of the KiR, “keepin’ it REAL,” curricula that are now used. There are units for all levels from pre-K through high school.
The adoption of these curricula corresponded to D.A.R.E.’s changing delivery methodology to one that is more interactive. This style places the emphasis on facilitation, rather than lecturing, and has the students working in cooperative learning groups. The D.A.R.E. officer acts as a guide for their learning experience.
Since 2016, a new high school curriculum has been in use. This program has distinct modules, which can be used individually, in combination, or as a complete suite. This approach increases flexibility and cost-effectiveness. Along with relevant, timely information, students gain the “tools to exercise responsible decision-making.”
The effectiveness of D.A.R.E. has been widely questioned. A number of studies have not found a significant link between the programs and reduction of drug use among children and adolescents, and some studies concluded that drug use increased in schools that used the program. Critics claim that teaching young children about drugs increases their curiosity and associates police presentations with validation, not condemnation, of the practices. Furthermore, the program included blanket, sometimes unsupportable, claims about drug use. One such claim that has been criticized was its presentation of marijuana as a gateway drug.
Within the schools, programs that are “reality-based” and do not expect zero tolerance are increasingly utilized. These classes often come in the form of SAPs, or Student Assistance Programs. New approaches include further attention to student input and increased availability of counseling. They also include discussions of alcohol, prescription medication, and over-the-counter medication abuse.
Programs limited to the school setting that focus wholly on the children are contrasted to more holistic approaches. Those would include parents and the wider community in which the children live. However, out-of-school programs face the challenge of locating and reaching students. Community-based institutions and programs such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCA and YWCA, and those affiliated with churches and other religious institutions may provide effective bases of contact and outreach.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there are 16 important principles for prevention programs. These vary somewhat according to “risk and protective factors, the type of program, and the delivery of the program.” Important components include the importance of caring adults, early intervention, and mentoring to young people. Limited funding available for programs is one critical factor in their limited accessibility. Additional problems include a shortage of adult mentors for one-on-one interaction and a lack of incentives for children to participate. Furthermore, it is challenging for programs to keep up with the number of controlled substances newly appearing and recon with their increasing availability to children.