|DARE To Follow The Data|
Posted by FoM on September 25, 2000 at 18:30:31 PT|
By Maia Szalavitz
Drug Abuse Resistance Education’s (DARE) long, free ride with the press and the public may finally be coming to an end. Editorials lately tend to oppose or question the program, rather than blindly supporting it as has often been the case in the past. Early this year, the Detroit News published a 13-part expose of DARE, including its own study of the program, which matched the scientific research in finding it ineffective.
DARE classes, which are taught by police officers to 5th and 6th graders and increasingly to high schoolers teach that all drugs from marijuana to alcohol to heroin are equally bad, and that peer pressure and low self esteem are the major causes of drug use.
When the drug prevention program began in 1983 as a project of then-Los Angeles Police Department chief Darryl Gates, it received mostly positive news coverage, which continued for over a decade despite a continually growing number of studies finding it either ineffective or even slightly harmful.
Empirical research does not support the self esteem connection, nor the notion that all drugs are equally harmful. Critics say that the program loses kids because their experience of family and friends' drug use shows that some drugs are more dangerous than others, and because the idea that "users are losers" is contradicted when they see popular kids taking drugs or drinking.
Nevertheless, DARE is utilized by over 80% of American schools, and those who try to remove it by citing the data have an amazingly hard time. Sure, there have been by "Dateline NBC" (2/21/97), the New Republic (3/3/97) and Rolling Stone (3/5/98). But even after these, and over a dozen other studies showing that it doesn't work, New York City added the program to its public schools in 1997, and parents and kids continued to cheerlead for it. As one DARE supporter said recently in an op-ed in the Washington Times (9/10/2000), DARE was as worth defending as "apple pie, motherhood and baseball."
And in fact, everything seemed to be going DARE’s way after it turned out that two of the most critical exposés – the Rolling Stone and New Republic stories – were written by the arch-falsifier Stephen Glass. In letters to the editors, DARE supporters point to these as examples of malicious press, and imply that all the negative coverage was equally removed from reality. DARE sued Glass and Rolling Stone for libel.
This spring, it lost its case as Federal Judge Virginia Phillips found the charges against the program to be "substantially true." Glass may have fictionalized many of his other stories, but the truth about DARE is that there is no scientific data to support it and that it has repeatedly strong-armed and tried to silence reporters and researchers who try to point this out.
The decision received surprisingly little media attention – just a 200 word business section mention in the New York Times and a similarly short piece in the Los Angeles Times (both 4/18/2000). And it didn’t stop editorialists from trying to tar other DARE critics with Glass' sins: an op-ed published in the Washington Times (9/14/2000) mentioned Glass' apology to DARE, but, interestingly, not the decision of the federal court that the charges were substantially true.
The press has been largely complicit in accepting DARE's PR spin as equal to the controlled research conducted by legitimate scientists and published in peer-reviewed journals. In ill-advised attempts at "balance," they have given equal time to supporters who cite anecdotes and unpublished data and the research literature on DARE.
For example, an editorial in the Deseret News of Utah (June 24, 2000) reviews the negative research but then says, "Yet a handful of other studies report positive outcomes. Among these is a recent Gallup poll that showed that 93% of students who had participated in the DARE program reported that they'd never tried marijuana, cocaine, heroin, crack or inhalants."
Even if you could accept a Gallup poll as equivalent to peer-reviewed research, there's a major problem here. Either Gallup surveyed 10-year-olds – over 90% of whom, DARE or not, have not tried drugs yet, – or the kids are lying. Numerous other surveys, with thousands of subjects conducted over decades for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found that over half of high school seniors have tried pot and over one quarter of the class of 1999 used it within 30 days of being surveyed. With DARE in 80% of the country's schools, there is no way that 93% of its graduates have been drug-free for life. If they were, the nation's drug problem would be virtually non-existent.
Other reports have been marked by similar lapses in logic:
Consider the coverage of the decision of Salt Lake City to drop out of the program. Salt Lake City Mayor Ross Anderson told the New York Times (9/16/2000) that he knew his decision to kill the program "is a net political loss for me." The Times quotes DARE President Levant, who, not surprisingly, disagrees with Anderson. Levant claimed that Anderson "ignored the short term benefits of the program, primarily that it discouraged drug use by elementary school children." The Times didn't mention that drug use in elementary schools is virtually non-existent, again, whether or not they use DARE.
The last several years have seen many school districts battle to drop DARE, some successfully, some not. If the media wants to be a true watchdog, it will have to give greater weight to science, not spin and have the courage to stand up to entrenched interests who will support their favored programs, whether they work or not.
Maia Szalavitz is author, with Dr. Joseph Volpicelli of the University of Pennsylvania, of "Recovery Options: The Complete Guide: How You and Your Loved Ones Can Understand and Treat Alcohol and Other Drug Problems." [Wiley, 2000]. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, Newsweek, Salon, New York Magazine and other major publications.
Note: Good Intentions Often Get Good Press Even When They Make Bad Policy.
Anti-Drug Program's End Stirs Up Salt Lake City
The Politics of Polling By Maia Szalavitz
CannabisNews DARE Archives:
|Comment #5 posted by i_rule_ on September 26, 2000 at 18:34:53 PT|
|Comment #4 posted by observer on September 26, 2000 at 12:58:28 PT|
|Comment #3 posted by i_rule_ on September 25, 2000 at 21:52:49 PT|
|Comment #2 posted by Frank on September 25, 2000 at 20:52:54 PT|
|Comment #1 posted by Occassional Pot User on September 25, 2000 at 19:50:33 PT|
These two courses should be unbiased, truthful, and factual.