Under fire, DARE continues fight against drugs
October 8, 1996
From Correspondent Jim Hill
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- In America's search for the antidote to its drug habit, criticism has flown freely from all directions. Now a popular drug education program is under fire for not having all the answers.
For 13 years, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, better known as DARE, has tried to educate children about the negative consequences of drug use before they encounter controlled substances in the real world.
DARE uses messengers like Los Angeles police officer Jorge Valles to spread the word among grade school children that alcohol and illegal drugs are not "cool."
Valles uses his visits to classrooms to highlight the destructive power of drugs and how to avoid succumbing to their mystique.
"These are the kids who for the most part have not really been exposed to the pressures of drugs or gangs," he said. "Once they reach the junior high level ... they will be."
But critics say DARE's message has no staying power with children, largely because of its limited scope. Observers like drug counselor Terry Hayes think DARE should do more than just lecture children in the classroom.
"My impression is the DARE program doesn't look at the comprehensive approach within the family dynamics that contribute to substance abuse," said Hayes.
Drug outreach counselor Alvin Abston echoes Hayes' concern about factors like home life in perpetuating drug abuse and DARE's failure to adequately address such problems.
"What about his mom and dad who are using cocaine or crack?" asked Abston. "That's something that's the norm in some homes."
One solution is to link DARE to active intervention like substance-abuse treatment programs, according to drug counselor Bettye Brown.
"Intensive programs that say, 'OK, so you're using. What we can do now is help you get off drugs,'" Brown said.
Scientific studies differ on the effectiveness of DARE, which is present in 75 percent of the nation's school districts.
One recent study found the rate of drug abuse among 10th graders who joined the program in the sixth grade was the same as those who had never been exposed to DARE's message.
But program supporters argue that more than 70 studies say DARE is making a difference in drug use by schoolchildren. One key to success, they say, is reinforcement of the message when students reach junior high.
Charlie Parsons, DARE's executive director acknowledges there is no one solution to solving the nation's drug problem.
"Let's not all of us in society say, 'Hey, DARE, you've got a problem,'" said Parsons. "It's much bigger than DARE. It's not a silver bullet. It's part of the answer."
© 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
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