Why Drug Education Doesn't Work

Why Drug Education Doesn't Work
Posted by CN Staff on November 25, 2002 at 10:56:33 PT
By Dan Gardner, The Ottawa Citizen 
Source: Vancouver Sun 
Anti-drug programs makes adults feel good, but all they're doing is digging a giant credibility hole. Marsha Rosenbaum says it was "a nice Jewish girl, just like me" who showed her what's wrong with trying to scare kids away from illegal drugs. At the time, 25 years ago, Rosenbaum was interviewing women addicted to heroin for her doctoral dissertation. She met the nice Jewish girl in jail. "She was just the straightest-looking, middle-class woman," Rosenbaum recalls. "But our lives had taken such different turns."
"What happened?" Rosenbaum asked. "And she said, 'We had these so-called drug education classes and they said if you smoke marijuana you'll get addicted to it. And they also said if we used heroin we'd get addicted to it. Well, most of us tried pot and nothing happened. So when heroin came along, I figured the whole message must be b.s. so I went ahead and tried it. And here I am, strung out and in jail.' " What to do about illegal drugs is hotly debated, but one thing everybody agrees on is the need to educate kids. "Everybody wants to do prevention. It's a buzzword," says Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, the Conservative chairman of the Senate's special committee on illegal drugs.Unfortunately, that consensus has led to a near-total lack of scrutiny. Who is teaching our children about drugs? What are kids being told? What is it supposed to accomplish? And most importantly, is it working? None of these questions has received much public attention.As a result, drug education in Canada is a mess -- "not properly planned, not properly delivered, and definitely not evaluated," Nolin says.In the committee's final report in September, a call to legalize marijuana stole the headlines. But the report also called for a radical overhaul of drug education: Canada's largest program needs to be thrown out, the senators said. Police officers should stop teaching kids about drugs. Even the basic goal must change.Most addiction education -- with the notable exception of alcohol -- preaches only abstinence: Just say no.That's not good enough, the senators conclude. Almost half of all teenagers say yes at least once in their lives. So drug education must teach students how to minimize the risks.The goal shouldn't be to stop all drug use, which is impossible, Nolin says. "They should try to prevent the abuse of drugs" -- use that is extreme, dangerous, or risks creating addiction.In September's throne speech, the government promised to introduce a new national drug strategy, the first in 15 years. Education will undoubtedly be part of that strategy.Perhaps the most astonishing fact about drugs in Canada is how few facts we know.In 2001, Auditor-General Sheila Fraser reported that the federal government does not even know how much it spends on drug programs and enforcement; she estimated $500 million a year. That excludes money spent by the provinces and territories. When Nolin's committee added the cost of municipal and provincial policing, it estimated that enforcement of drug laws alone costs Canadians almost $1 billion a year. What does this spending accomplish? No one really knows, says the auditor-general. To figure it out would take good information on rates of drug use, but the data is "sparse, outdated, or not available."And drug programs are almost never tested for efficacy. In fact, they generally can't be tested because, the auditor-general notes, the government has never set "clear and measurable expectations or objectives."The fog surrounding drug policy is particularly thick around drug education programs. How much is spent? No one knows. However, Fraser estimated that 95 per cent of federal spending on drugs goes to enforcement, leaving perhaps $25 million for everything else. As a result, the Senate committee concluded, resources available for the prevention of drug abuse are "woefully inadequate."A central player in prevention efforts is the drug awareness service of the RCMP, which provides a variety of education programs. By far the largest is Drug Abuse Resistance Education. Created in the U.S., DARE brings police officers to classrooms to tell kids about the dangers of drugs and to teach ways of saying no. DARE has curricula that cover kindergarten to Grade 12, but the core program is taught to Grade 5 or 6 students, one hour a week for 17 weeks.Community service clubs pay for workbooks, pencils and other supplies, while the police pay for the officers' time. Community groups usually pay for police officers to be trained as DARE instructors; while Ottawa does not contribute, the U.S. government has given $750,000 to pay for the training of Canadian instructors.In 2001, the RCMP and other Canadian police forces took DARE into 1,811 schools in 585 communities. About 65,000 kids were involved.The RCMP runs several other drug education programs, some in which kids are encouraged to get involved in sports as an alternative to drugs, others for parents or aboriginal students. In all, RCMP officers make about 10,000 presentations a year. With the exception of DARE, no program has been seriously evaluated."We've had anecdotal evaluation, but obviously that doesn't carry very far in terms of looking at whether we are really meeting the needs," says Corporal Mark Sorokan, one of 44 officers with the Drug Awareness Service. He agrees that "evaluation is key to any type of programming." But, he says, the Mounties just can't afford it.DARE's efficacy has never been studied in Canada, either. But it has been evaluated in the U.S. The Senate committee reviewed that research and concluded that it's a flop.DARE was developed in 1983 by Darryl Gates, then the controversial chief of the Los Angeles police department. (Gates later offered a more unconventional idea for drug policy when he told a U.S. Senate committee that casual drug users should be shot.) The program ballooned during the drug panic of the late 1980s. It's now taught in 80 per cent of U.S. school districts and has spread to 40 other countries.That growth isn't based on a record of success. In 2001, a report by the U.S. National Research Council commissioned by the top White House official on drug policy -- the "drug czar" -- surveyed the extensive research on DARE and concluded the program has "little effect" on kids' drug use. That same year, a report from the U.S. surgeon-general's office concluded DARE had "little or no deterrent effect on substance abuse." In 1997, a report on crime prevention commissioned by the U.S. Congress was even more blunt: "DARE does not work to reduce substance abuse."DARE's failure in the U.S. is well known among Canadian researchers. A 2001 report prepared for Health Canada noted that the American studies have "been consistent in showing that the program does not prevent or delay drug use, nor does it affect future intentions to do so."When Canada's Senate committee reviewed the research, it was appalled. "This information is in the public domain," the committee report said. "It has been available for many years. Considering the limited resources available for the prevention of drug abuse in Canada, federal authorities and the RCMP ought to have looked at that information" before they brought DARE to Canada.But DARE officials insist their program is not a failure. They point to research that shows students given DARE know more about drugs and have a more positive attitude about police. Surveys also show that parents, teachers and school administrators also tend to be satisfied with the program. DARE was recently given an award for making an "outstanding contribution to education" by the British Columbia School Superintendents Association, Sorokan notes."Almost any program makes adults feel good because they feel like they're doing something," says Marsha Rosenbaum, who is director of the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance, a non-government organization critical of American drug policy. But the point of DARE is not to spread good feelings but to reduce drug use, which it doesn't do.DARE's defenders blame the schools. William Alden of DARE America says that, although the program has a full kindergarten-through-Grade 12 curriculum, "most of the communities in the United States and around the world only had the resources to implement the elementary school curriculum" in Grades 5 or 6. "Certainly, 17 one-hour lessons are not going to inoculate anybody" against drug use.Critics don't buy the argument that there just isn't enough DARE."The problem isn't the extent of it, it's the content," says Rosenbaum. Both the original DARE and the pilot project have just one message: "Drugs are bad, you shouldn't do them, and here's how to refuse."That message is a mistake, Rosenbaum says. For one, relying on the "badness" of drugs to scare kids encourages adults to exaggerate the dangers. Then, when kids see peers use drugs without falling to pieces, everything adults say about the subject becomes suspect."We have dug ourselves into a giant credibility hole." That's dangerous, as Rosenbaum found when she interviewed the heroin addict who figured "the whole message must be b.s."And kids will see other kids using drugs. In the U.S., slightly more than half of high school seniors admit to having used at least one illegal drug. A 2001 survey of Ontario students found 43.5 per cent of teens in Grade 12 had used marijuana; 26.8 per cent had used some other illegal drug.There are two main explanations for the failure of the Just-Say-No approach, Rosenbaum says. First, it bears no resemblance to reality."Adults regularly use alcohol," she notes. "We gobble pharmaceutical drugs as well as over-the-counter substances. Kids understand that coffee is a drug -- they know what happens in the morning when their parents get up and they've got to have that cup of coffee before they can speak." Children also see growing numbers of their peers being prescribed "kiddie cocaine" -- Ritalin and other stimulants. So rhetoric about living drug-free seems hollow, even silly.Then there's the problem of adolescence itself. "It's a time in our lives when we're most amenable to experimentation, to taking risks, to pushing the limits. You tell a 15- or 16-year-old boy that something, anything, is physically dangerous and you're almost setting up a challenge," Rosenbaum says. Not surprisingly, drug use peaks in the late teen years. To parents, this may sound hopeless and frightening. But research consistently finds that such experimentation is not likely to end in disaster."Most adolescents who try alcohol or other drugs do not become frequent or problem users," notes a report of the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. And most teens grow out of it quickly, with rates of drug use dropping off dramatically when they reach their early 20s.Snipped:Complete Article: Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)Author: Dan Gardner, The Ottawa Citizen Published: Monday, November 25, 2002Copyright: 2002 The Vancouver SunContact: sunletters pacpress.southam.caWebsite: Policy Alliance - DARE Archives
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Comment #3 posted by Nuevo Mexican on November 25, 2002 at 18:29:23 PT
The Truth about Joints from Scientologists!
This is a great article, plain common sense, reasoned, basic, obvious truths assembled for ease of understanding and reading. I aspire to do what this man does for the journalist profession and for cannabis re-legalization!
Look at what Dan Gardner is up against:
Notice the ratcheting up of anti-canadaism by the media regarding 'bush is a moron' comments etc.
Underlying it is an obvious demonization of Canada so our DEA can claim 'terrorism' and invade our still-somewhat Democratic neighbor to the North. As predicted by C-newsers a long time ago! Now that bush signed the Homeland Security Act, those sleepwalking will be shocked out of their slumber or future victims of 'the Great Deceiver'! Its all good! Remember FOM, their is no 'death', just going home!
I know he will be 'missed' greatly, thanks for helping your father in law make the transition! Peace! NM
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Comment #2 posted by aocp on November 25, 2002 at 12:46:15 PT
here's a link
for Safety First ... thanx for the heads up, doc. :)T.A.P. - Teachers Against Prohibition
Safety First
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo MD on November 25, 2002 at 12:15:28 PT:
It is incredible to read Dan Gardner's material, appreciate its maturity, sensibility and wisdom. Very little exists to compare with in in the USA, the current home of multinational media conglomerates, lackeys, and gutless reporters who ignore topics such as these. We do not have a lot of courageous lawyers like Eugene Oscapella, either.Marsha Rosenbaum is one of the shining lights of the drug policy scene. Her no nonsense approach to drug education should be the blueprint for society. Go to her site. Download or order free copies of "Safety First" and give them to doctors, principals and others talking to kids. This is the solution we need.
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