As a child, my only exposure to drugs was the sporadic reminders from my parents and teachers that “drugs are bad” laced with the warning, “Don’t do them.” Without questioning the sense of authority these influential figures in my life held, I was blindly complicit with the idea that drugs are an evil that I was to abstain from.
That was my only interaction with the concept. Attending a preppy private school for the first half of my life, in which I was one of the token non-white children to pin on the brochures, my exposure to reality was limited. I knew nothing of the world besides my restricted perception of what life was really like.
However, my pristine bubble was abruptly popped one evening when my father received a call to inform him that his friend and coworker of many years had died of a drug overdose.
My parents took this as an opportunity to implement an important lesson in my life: “Don’t do drugs, you’ll die.”
At eleven years old it was difficult to comprehend exactly what a drug overdose was. My parents could not find the words to articulate concepts of drugs and death to a child who was blind to the world’s dangers. My mind was unable to digest the idea that someone would deliberately hurt themselves if they knew the consequences. Even I, a kid, knew that drugs were bad. How could a man of forty-plus years not?
Despite the praise I acquaint my elementary education with, the one qualm I have with it is their ineffective drug programs. Though private education prevented me from experiencing the ever-so renowned Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, the drug prevention education I did receive did not as much prepare me to encounter and say no to drugs but made me to fear them instead.
This is the problem with drug programs in America. This is why we need drug reform.
Stemming 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, DARE has positive intentions but negative consequences. While the long-term effect of the initiative is debated, a 2011 study of all meta-studies regarding the program revealed that students who underwent the program were “indistinguishable” from students who did not.
This program does not only stretch across the United States but also encompasses 52 other countries as well. Today, DARE continues 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 alone. Programs like DARE are seen as crucial to a child’s education, as in 2013 alone, about 24.6 million American youth above the age of 12 had used some form of illicit drug in the past month since the survey. These numbers appear to only be increasing despite efforts to reduce substance abuse, with an 8.3 percent increase since 2002. This shows that drug prevention programs may not only be ineffective, but counterproductive as well.
Though these whopping populations are championed as successes for proponents of the drug prevention program, the ineffectiveness of this organization puts the world at risk for a severely uninformed youth that will raise future generations to be as, if not more, susceptible to substance abuse.
Kids who were taught under the DARE program were bombarded with the catchphrase “just say no.” They learned this through local police officers in order to reinforce the idea of abstaining from drugs while also building stronger relations between police officers and communities. However, while this seemed to strengthen ties between law enforcement and students, the DARE program’s initial implementation in public schools was quickly legitimized due to this practice and as a result not questioned with a level of scrutiny that was necessary for a program this crucial to a child’s development.
This accounts for the program’s continuation despite its nonexistent to poor results. In fact, the United States government funnels one to two billion dollars per year into the initiative, with the cost increasing exponentially each year since its creation. Despite its controversial success rate, the government continues to input the program into 80 percent K-12 schools across the nation without murmur of reform. In fact, all presidents since 1988 have recognized National DARE Day, continuing through the Obama administration.
Taxpayers should be contributing money toward programs that actually create some form of change or provide a benefit to the people of their community. Instead, taxpayers have to continuously fuel money into an organization that time and time again yields no results because of the blind eye turned toward its doings due to its affiliation with law enforcement.
Apart from revealing a governmental negligence of the issue, this copious amount of money allotted to the upkeep of the organization also sheds light on our ignorance. As we blindly accept the actions of our government as just because of their authority over our lives, we allow this inadequate education to infiltrate schools and use money that could be better spent on other areas, such as education or rehabilitation, which still pertain to the same issues and are incredibly underfunded.
Upon interviewing a student from a local high school who has undergone the DARE program, I found that this lack of change does not only apply on paper. Senior Matthew Duazo comments on his personal experience with the initiative and concludes that it had practically no effect on his upbringing.
“I’ve grown up in Sanford, Florida for practically my entire life. For those who aren’t familiar with Sanford, it’s not in the best of areas and despite my family being well-off, I have been exposed to people from various walks of life throughout my entire experience in public school and I’ve realized that drugs are not limited to people from low-income families or confined to specific races. Drugs are an issue that plague teenagers of America today, regardless of other influences.
The DARE program provided me with a basic knowledge of drugs; while I did not exactly understand how someone becomes involved with drugs to begin with, I knew from an early age that drugs were equated to danger. Being a senior in high school now, I’ve found that my knowledge on drugs remains fairly unchanged and the only added information I have received is from my own experiences, not from any form of school mandated program.”
Though DARE began with the right intentions, the lack of results yielded from its execution are a cause for reevaluation. In order to make this program more effective, it should consist of more than a mainly elementary school implementation to truly have an impact. Similar to how sexual education needs to be enforced throughout a child’s educational experience, substance abuse education needs to be repeatedly taught in order to reiterate the message constantly throughout a child’s development. Children should not be taught to fear drugs, but instead understand the consequences of them and make the conscious decision for themselves to not engage in them.
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