Most of us can agree on the importance of effective drug use and violence prevention programs in our schools. Unfortunately, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), the most widely used drug, alcohol, and violence prevention program in the United States, has been the target of recent criticism. For example, several recent evaluations of D.A.R.E’s elementary school program have found that it has been substantially less successful than a number of other programs currently recommended by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.

Why this lack of success? Some researchers believe it is because unlike other successful programs of this type, D.A.R.E. uses only a classroom-based curriculum as opposed to a multicomponent approach, which incorporates extra curricular activities into the program.

To counter this criticism, D.A.R.E. has developed the D.A.R.E. Plus program. The extended acronym, which stands for "Play and Learn Under Supervision," offers elementary school children who have completed the D.A.R.E. curriculum the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, such as dances and theatre productions. D.A.R.E. is also working to tailor its programs to meet the needs of middle and junior high school students. However, until recently, these programs had not undergone any independent evaluations of their effectiveness. In a study published in the February 2003 issue of the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine , researchers found that D.A.R.E. alone doesn’t work. But D.A.R.E. Plus just might.

About the Study

Researchers evaluated 6,237 seventh-grade students in 24 middle and junior high schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area over the 1999-2000 academic years. Eight schools included in the study received only the D.A.R.E. curriculum, eight schools received the D.A.R.E. Plus programs, and eight schools had no drug prevention programs at all.

In the schools that received D.A.R.E. Plus, additional components included a peer-led parental involvement classroom program, youth-led extracurricular activities, community adult action teams, and postcard mailings to parents.

All the students in the study answered questionnaires regarding tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use, and violence and victimization at the beginning and end of seventh grade and at the end of eighth grade.

The Findings

The researchers found that the D.A.R.E. curriculum alone did not demonstrate any significant behavioral effects among either boys or girls. On the other hand, boys in the D.A.R.E. Plus schools were less likely to report increases in their use of alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, or violent behavior. Girls in the D.A.R.E. Plus program were less likely to report an increase in their use of alcohol compared to girls in the D.A.R.E. only schools. However, the overall effect of the D.A.R.E. Plus program was significantly higher in boys than girls.

How Does This Affect You?

The study suggests that the D.A.R.E. program alone does not affect drug use and violent behavior among middle and junior high school students. The findings strongly suggest, however, that the inclusion of peer, parental, and community components in the D.A.R.E. Plus program significantly enhanced the effect of the D.A.R.E. curriculum, particularly for boys. These results may be explained by the fact that the D.A.R.E. Plus program helps create a multicomponent safety net for young adolescents, making the prevention programs more comprehensive and effective.

Why did boys and girls respond differently to the D.A.R.E. Plus programs? Researchers believe it could have been any of a number of factors. For example, it may be that the additional components of the D.A.R.E. Plus program appealed more to boys, or that the predominantly male police officers who participated in the program were a more positive role model for boys. Finally, it could be that the boys involved with the program were at higher risk for these behaviors prior to the study and therefore reflected the program’s impact more strongly.

If you are a teacher, a parent, or a concerned community member, and wish to get involved with drug and violence prevention in the your local schools, the D.A.R.E Plus program does appear to be effective, unlike its predecessor. If your schools are without a drug and violence prevention program or they are still using the original D.A.R.E program, this study can help you persuade the superintendents office and/or police department that preventive interventions are worthwhile and a tested program does exist.