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America's Most Famous Anti-Drug Use Program Evolves
The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) has changed for the past 35 years and a mark of its progressing efforts is a new national curriculum that was announced this month.
By: Addiction Now
Teens will learn about street opioids, opioid-based prescriptions, and over-the-counter medications as well as how to read the labels of the medications and understand facts about the drugs.
The lessons will emphasize helping teens to comprehend the importance of not misusing certain substances and the fact that poor decisions surrounding prescribed medications have led the country to the epidemic. Students will be required to identify signs of the U.S. health crisis involving opioids and learn the reasons why teens are more vulnerable to prescription misuse than other age groups. Information regarding poison control will also be shared with the students and the community.
The new opioid abuse prevention curriculum is an extension of DARE's 'keepin' it REAL' curriculum — initially delivered in 2008 to middle-school students.
Keepin' it REAL — created by a team of scientists at Pennsylvania State University and Arizona State University with financial support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse — brought about significant changes to DARE's teaching style. Instead of having kids watch lectures, keepin' it REAL lessons invited students to work collectively on improving their decision-making skills during high-risk situations, under the guidance of a trained DARE professional.
DARE still officially stands for 'Drug Abuse Resistance Education' but now the new curriculum uses the acronym to convey a different set of efforts — 'Define, Assess, Respond, Evaluate.'
DARE was launched in 1983 after members of the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Police Department established a partnership to educate elementary school students on the dangers of drug use.
The curriculum originally featured 17 lessons with information about different drugs and emphasis on their negative effects. Although theoretically discussions were encouraged, the majority of the lessons did not allow the students to interact with the DARE officers.
The year before DARE was established, amidst the War on Drugs, former First Lady Nancy Reagan visited an elementary school in Oakland, California to talk about the dangers of drugs. When a student asked her what to do if they were offered drugs, Reagan said: "just say no."
From the early 80s to the 90s, DARE embraced the phrase and 'just say no' was incorporated into a number of anti-drug advertisement campaigns. In 2009, more than 20 controlled studies were cross-analyzed and researchers found that DARE's 'just say no' campaign was not effective in preventing drug abuse.
'Just say no' was also found to perpetuate a stigma surrounding people struggling with substance use disorders, which can prevent those who need help from seeking treatment.
One study went further than simply highlighting that DARE had failed to prevent drug use among youths. Instead, the study noted significant increases in drug use among suburban students following participation in the program.
A number of other researchers followed suit and led studies that managed to debunk the program's effectiveness. Some argued that telling kids to 'just say no' makes them covertly want to say yes.
The controversies and backlashes surrounding the effectiveness of the program pushed DARE members to work to improve and update their approaches rather than sticking to the harsh drug policies used in the past.
Representatives of the program have stated that they aim to help students make better decisions rather than passing a message of zero-tolerance or instilling fear in students.