RD551 - Effectiveness of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) Program and Assessment of Other Evidence-Based Drug Education Programs – January 1, 2018
Item 398 #3s of the 2017 Budget Bill directed the DCJS Center for School and Campus Safety to “conduct an evaluation of the effectiveness of the [Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E.] program, along with an assessment of other evidence based drug education programs." This report reviews D.A.R.E. in Virginia, the most recent research on D.A.R.E. effectiveness, and provides an assessment of various other substance abuse prevention programs that have been shown to be evidence-based.
D.A.R.E. Programs in Virginia
Data from the DCJS 2016-2017 Annual School Safety Survey, which covers all K-12 public schools in Virginia, shows that 20% (396) of Virginia’s 1,956 public schools offered the D.A.R.E. curriculum to students. D.A.R.E. is most frequently offered in elementary schools (28% of schools), with some programs offered in middle school (12% of schools), high schools (5%) and other schools (13%).
Among the 396 schools offering D.A.R.E., about two-thirds (64%) of the schools reported that the program was taught by a D.A.R.E. officer who was not a School Resource Officer (SRO) assigned to the school. About one-third (31%) reported that D.A.R.E. was taught by an SRO assigned to the school who was not a D.A.R.E. officer. Elementary schools were most likely to report having D.A.R.E. taught by a D.A.R.E. officer (70%), and high schools were most likely to report having D.A.R.E. taught by an SRO rather than a D.A.R.E. officer (59%).
The Virginia D.A.R.E. Association, which provides D.A.R.E. training through the Virginia D.A.R.E. Training Center, reported that in FY2017 D.A.R.E. was offered in 393 public schools across Virginia, with more than 75% of these offered in elementary schools. Nearly 48,000 students completed the D.A.R.E. program in FY2017. The D.A.R.E. Community Education Adult Program provided 21 parent/community programs/presentations to 611 parents in FY2017. Overall, Virginia D.A.R.E. officers provided 397 group presentations/workshops to 9,430 attendees.
Findings on the Effectiveness of D.A.R.E.
There is little agreement among researchers about D.A.R.E.’s effectiveness in preventing or reducing substance abuse. Since its beginning in 1983, D.A.R.E. has evolved to encompass many different programs which have different names, philosophies, practices, and target audiences. Published research on D.A.R.E. effectiveness frequently notes that this has historically made it difficult to determine and evaluate which version of D.A.R.E. is actually being used in the settings being studied. Also, because D.A.R.E. has become so well-known and widely used, it has various constituencies that, for several decades, have lobbied both for and against the program’s effectiveness. This has further complicated efforts to assess D.A.R.E.’s effectiveness, because it often can be difficult to distinguish between what is objective research about D.A.R.E. and what is D.A.R.E. program advocacy material.
To locate the best scientific assessments of D.A.R.E., DCJS examined data from two of the federal government’s major resources for identifying effective substance abuse prevention and reduction programs: CrimeSolutions.gov, maintained by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), and the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Each of these resources is designed to provide scientifically valid, evidence based assessments of substance abuse prevention and reduction programs.
Both CrimeSolutions.gov and the NREPP contained studies indicating that some D.A.R.E.-related programs appear Promising for preventing or reducing substance abuse. However, neither of these resources contained any studies that rated D.A.R.E. as Effective in preventing or reducing substance abuse.
NIJ’s CrimeSolutions.gov reviewed two D.A.R.E. programs: the Drug Abuse Resistance Education + Play and Learn Under Supervision (D.A.R.E. + PLUS) program, and the keepin’ it REAL program. It rated D.A.R.E. + PLUS as Promising for reducing alcohol, tobacco and multidrug use, and it rated the keepin’ it REAL program as Promising for reducing alcohol and marijuana use.
SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices contained a review of the keepin’ it REAL program and rated it as Promising for preventing alcohol use and disorders and tobacco use and disorders, but Ineffective regarding cannabis use and disorders and knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about substance use. However, in late September of 2017, the listing for the keepin’ it REAL program was removed from the NREPP listing at the request of the program’s sponsor. To date, the program has not been returned to the NREPP listing.
Taken together, the evidence from NIJ and SAMHSA indicates that, at best, some components of D.A.R.E. (primarily Keepin’ it REAL) show promise for preventing or reducing substance abuse, but there is little evidence that D.A.R.E. is actually effective in preventing or reducing substance abuse.
Given this, DCJS also reviewed research that asked the question: “Why do school districts continue to participate in D.A.R.E. when its effectiveness is questionable?" This research indicates that D.A.R.E. remains popular because, despite evidence that it actually reduces substance abuse, people generally have positive perceptions of D.A.R.E. D.A.R.E. practitioners and participants cited other positive D.A.R.E. program benefits which they point out are usually not addressed in formal evaluation studies. These benefits include enhancing communications about drugs between children, parents, school personnel, and law enforcement. The Virginia D.A.R.E. Association also stated regarding D.A.R.E. that “The impact is noticeable and the positive relationship with the community is unmeasurable."
Findings on Other Evidence Based Drug Education Programs
NIJ’s CrimeSolutions.gov contained reviews of 98 studies on substance abuse/prevention programs. Of these 98 programs, 18 programs were rated as Effective in reducing substance abuse based on scientific, evidence based studies:
• Adults in the Making (AIM)
SAMHSA’s National Registry for Effective Programs and Practices reviewed 58 studies on the effectiveness of substance abuse prevention/reduction programs, and identified 13 programs with Effective outcomes:
• AlcoholEdu for College
More detailed information on the above programs rated as Effective can be found in Section III of this report and at the National Institute of Justice ( https://www.crimesolutions.gov/) and at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ( http://nrepp.samhsa.gov/landing.aspx.)