The D.A.R.E. Generation Speaks Out

 As a member of the D.A.R.E. generation, I have a lot of interesting memories of my participation in the widespread drug education program that was all the rage in the 90s. Many SSDPers will be aware that the program was deemed ineffective in preventing drug use among youth (thanks, science)! Despite this, many communities continue to implement the program or have adopted the “improved” version, Keepin’ it Real (yeah, that’s what it’s called). Unfortunately, KiR is not that much better than D.A.R.E was, and the lack of research into the efficacy of the program is troubling.

 

In my role as SSDP’s Drug Education Manager, I like to keep up with the latest in drug education to better inform the continued development and evolution of our very own Just Say Know Peer Education Program. In this quest, I made the (likely unwise) choice to set a google alert for D.A.R.E. To my horror, I was seeing more and more stories of communities starting to implement D.A.R.E again in response to the opioid crises in their communities. Through my rage, I began thinking back to my D.A.R.E. experiences and just how ridiculous it all seemed, even as an impressionable youth who was the perfect audience for such exaggerated and misleading messaging.

 

I decided to reach out to fellow SSDPers to see if there were other interesting stories to be shared about our experiences in the failed program. Never ones to disappoint, our SSDPeople delivered. Read on for stories of ignited curiosities, lies, betrayal, and activists in the making:

“When I was in third grade, part of our education was that someone brought in a wooden, glass-topped box with a tiny sample of a bunch of different kinds of drugs underneath the glass. All of them were labeled. We were supposed to look them over so that we could identify and avoid drugs, and not accidentally ingest or take them (somehow???). The entirety of my DARE experience served to educate me about things I didn’t know existed, and sparked a sense of curiosity in my kid brain, but looking back this is one of the more bizarre lessons I had in DARE.” – Anonymous

“I remember so vividly when a group of high schoolers came into my 5th grade class to talk to us about saying no to drugs. The panel consisted of an almost perfectly planned diverse group of students of all colors and cliques (ie. a jock, a nerd, an artsy kid, an African American student, etc.) Each of them each talked about how they never would fall into the temptation of peer pressure. They each gave a story of how they had been offered some kind of drug (the examples were mainly alcohol, weed, and cigarettes) and how their gut told them to ‘just say no.’ This was an effective approach from D.A.R.E…who else would easily impressionable 5th graders listen to more than cool older kids?

[later], I remember walking down the stairs at the end of the school day and waiting in the main office for my mom to pick me up. I ran into the high schoolers who were standing there all laughing hysterically waiting for their bus to take them back to wherever they came from. After some minimal effort at eavesdropping, I overheard them collectively say how funny it was that they just lied to a bunch of 5th graders about never using drugs and how awesome this gig was because they got excused from class that day. My 10-year-old self couldn’t help but feel weirdly heartbroken and betrayed.” –Akemi Almeida ‘16, DePaul SSDP

“I went through the DARE program in the 6th grade. At the time, I was very trusting of authorities. I entered DARE excited to learn about what those “drug users” do. Police came into the school, and they taught us all sorts of things:

-If you use heroin or methamphetamine, you’ll become helplessly addicted.

-You’ll never be happy again if you use a drug, because you’ll never be able to get as high as the first time.

-If you use marijuana, you’ll probably end up using heroin and methamphetamine.

-Using marijuana will make you incredibly unintelligent.

-Marijuana causes cancer at a significantly higher rate than tobacco.

Over the course of the next several years, I was shocked when my friends starting smoking tobacco and cannabis and not immediately experiencing any of these negative effects. So I started searching for more information and found Erowid, a website that provides unbiased information about drugs. I was shocked. What surprised me the most was how much they had exaggerated the negatives of heroin and methamphetamine, drugs that there is no reason to exaggerate when encouraging people not to use them. In the decade since then, I’ve learned why. A massive prison industry and system of racial control relies on police being incentivized to arrest users of drugs. Some of the police might have thought they were doing the right thing and reducing drug usage rates with this messaging. They weren’t. These programs, and drug prohibition in general, don’t significantly decrease drug usage rates or the harms from drug usage.” – James Gould, ‘15, VP of SSPD at CU Boulder

SSDP staff members also shared their stories:

I went to a public school and we had DARE in 3rd and 4th grade (possibly 5th too, I can’t remember), and the thing I remember most about it is that the officer was very friendly, funny, and outgoing. I remember looking forward to having him in the class simply because he made us laugh. He knew all of our names and clearly knew how to talk to kids. Looking back I can tell this particular officer was selected on purpose since he connected with us so well. DARE sessions were something we looked forward to as a fun part of the day, and honestly, anything that took time away from regular school work was great in our books.

I recall one day where he was talking to us about marijuana. He was telling us that we may have heard from others that marijuana isn’t as harmful as other drugs like cocaine or heroin, but that we needed to trust him that it was just as bad. He showed us pictures of people who smoked marijuana before and after they allegedly started using. The “before” photos almost looked like stock photos, with color and smiles. The “after” photos were almost all mugshots.” – Jake Agliata ‘11, Regional Outreach Coordinator, SSDP

I was also fortunate enough to get a story sent to me by cannabis activist, Sarah Jane Gallegos of MRX Labs in Oregon:

“I grew up straight edge, so I did not consume alcohol or drugs, including cannabis. As my career as an 8th grade English Teacher teacher unfolded, I was presented with the opportunity to teach the DARE curriculum for our Middle School. I was glad to be the one teaching the program, because I believed in it so wholeheartedly. While teaching, I became very ill and finally was asked by my doctor to try cannabis medicinally, since no other pharmaceutical was working. Being the life-long “Just say no” girl, naturally I was emotionally and intellectually opposed. I began doing a lot of research, and discovered some alarming results. The DARE program’s literature and curriculum was NOT as scientifically sound as I believed. I was finally comfortable trying cannabis, now that I knew DARE and prohibition were a part of a bigger political picture, and perhaps cannabis wasn’t the original villain it was cast to be. I have seen huge improvements in my health, thanks to giving it a chance and making the leap.” Read more of Sarah’s story in the May 2017 issue of Oregon Leaf         

Do you have an interesting D.A.R.E. or other drug education story you would like to have featured on the blog? E-mail them to vilmarie@ssdp.org.

For more information about our Just Say Know Peer Education program and how SSDP is working to reverse the harms of ineffective drug education, please visit www.ssdp.org/justsayknow or e-mail vilmarie@ssdp.org with questions.