A Summary and Synthesis of Contemporary Empirical Evidence regarding the Effects of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program (D.A.R.E.)

Article excerpt

The prevention of drug abuse is an especially salient topic for school psychologists and other educational professionals. Schools are the primary setting for providing education and information aimed at the prevention of drug abuse. Previous meta-analyses (Ennett, et al., 1994; West & O'Neal, 2004) indicate that one of the nation's most popular drug prevention programs, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (D.A.R.E.), was not effective in reducing illicit drug use among youths. In 2003, D.A.R.E. was modified in an attempt to make it more effective. The purpose of this review is to summarize and synthesize the contemporary empirical evidence, which includes six studies focusing on the old D.A.R.E. and one study focusing on the new D.A.R.E., regarding outcomes associated with the modified D.A.R.E. program. Recent studies offer mixed evidence regarding the effectiveness of the new D.A.R.E curriculum, thus, further systematic investigation is warranted to better understand student outcomes associated with the new D.A.R.E curriculum. This information is particularly valuable for school psychologists, administrators, and other education professionals responsible for identifying empirically supported programs for use in schools.

Through the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program, law enforcement personnel contribute their expertise to help teach America 's youth to resist peer pressure, and to abstain from drugs, gangs, and violence. We all have a responsibility to join these professionals in enabling youth to choose alternatives to violence and dangerous behavior and to lead the next generation of Americans toward a brighter future. NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 8, 2010, as National D.A.R.E. Day. (http://www.dare.com/home/tertiary/defaultlb34.asp)

We find ourselves amidst a socio-political Zeitgeist emphasizing "evidence-based" and "empirically supported" prevention and intervention efforts in our nation's schools. Given the above, and the preceding proclamation by President Barack Obama declaring a National D.A.R.E. Day, it begs the question: What does the research reveal regarding student outcomes associated with D.A.R.E.? The following begins with a brief discussion of the importance of prevention programs to address deleterious outcomes associated with drug use, then provides a summary of one of the nation's most popular prevention programs, D.A.R.E. The results of recent meta-analyses are subsequently discussed and recent studies are reviewed. In the final sections, we explore the widespread popularity of D.A.R.E. and the importance of empirical evidence and data-based decision making in choosing school-wide prevention programs.

DELETERIOUS OUTCOMES OF DRUG USE

The harmful effects of drug abuse can be widespread and irreversible. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), even short-term drug use may lead to detrimental conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, ?G?/AIDS, hepatitis, and lung disease (NIDA, 2008). Moreover, long-term drug use may lead to debilitating psychiatric conditions such as paranoia, depression, excessive aggression, and hallucinations. In addition, drug use is associated with deleterious academic, social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health indicators among adolescents (Hussong, Curran, Moffitt, Caspi, & Carrig, 2004; Martins & Alexandre, 2009). Finally, both short- and long-term drug use may lead to temporary or permanent neurological damage that impairs various aspects of memory and executive functioning, including emotional and behavioral inhibition (NIDA, 2008). Unfortunately, despite these deleterious consequences, many school-aged youth continue to both use and abuse drugs of many kinds.

DRUG USE AMONG YOUTH IN THE UNITED STATES

The recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) revealed that, between 2002 and 2009, overall rates of drug use among youths ages 12 through 17 were down (from 11. …