DARE: The Anti-Drug Program That Never Actually Worked

Article by Rosie Cima, Priceonomics

If you went to grade school in the 1980s or 90s, chances are good you were publicly offered drugs at school by a uniformed police officer.

“Hey,” he might have said, “Want to meet up behind the gym after school and get high?”

Luckily for you, you were savvy enough to understand that this wasn’t an earnest offer. It was an exercise in resistance .

“No thanks!” you’d say. “I have homework to go do.”

“Come on,” he’d retort. Impressed with your delivery, he’d decided to step up the simulatedpeer pressure . “I thought you were cool.”

“Not doing drugs is cool,” was your reply.

Your classmates might have applauded, at the officer/teacher’s prompting. Then you went back to your seat, and the officer would go over the things you did well in the exercise, so the class could learn by your example. In addition to teaching the other students, the officer was also building up your self esteem .

Self esteem and resistance were two major cornerstones of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program, also known as DARE. Through the 1980s and the 1990s, DARE swelled from a tiny local program to a massive, and massively expensive, national campaign against drugs in schools. At its peak, DARE was practiced in 75% of American schools , and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to run. It had spiffy, 90s branded swag, and a baritone-voiced mascot, “Daren the Lion.”

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