Study Critical of Anti-Drug Program Called Flawed

By Laura Miller — October 12, 1994 3 min read

An academic journal’s decision to publish a portion of a federally financed study critical of the nation’s most widely used school anti-drug-abuse program has angered officials of the program, who say that section of the study is flawed.

The excerpt appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health. It concludes that Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, has little influence on adolescent drug use and that the program may be taking the place of more effective alternatives.

“DARE’s limited influence on adolescent drug-use behavior contrasts with the program’s popularity and prevalence,” the portion of the study concludes.

DARE is a K-12 prevention program that is used in all 50 states and more than half the nation’s school districts. Founded in Los Angeles in 1983, it relies on specially trained law-enforcement officers to teach drug-abuse prevention in schools.

Officials of Chicago-based DARE at first supported the broad study, which was commissioned in 1991 by the National Institute of Justice and conducted by the North Carolina-based Research Triangle Institute. DARE officials hoped it might counter critics who have charged that the program is ineffective.

But they now criticize the portion of the research that appeared in the journal, as well as what they charge was a decision to publish it out of context.

An editor of the journal defended that decision, saying the article passed reviews by several independent experts.

The section, called “A Meta-Analysis of Project DARE Outcome Evaluations,” involved a review of eight evaluations of DARE to determine the program’s effectiveness in curbing drug abuse.

The researchers used “old students and old curricula that are no longer being taught,” said Roberta Silverman, a DARE spokeswoman. Moreover, she said, the students in the surveys were too young to be prime candidates for using drugs.

“Obviously you are not going to see a significant reduction of drug use among 5th and 6th graders, because they’re not using drugs,” Ms. Silverman argued. “You’re looking at the wrong group.”

The study involved repackaged old data, she said, and compared DARE with very small-scale, university-research-based programs.

Officials of the National Institute of Justice, an arm of the U.S. Justice Department, said department reviewers also noted weaknesses in the Research Triangle Institute’s methodology.

“The samples were too small and the [comparison] programs too dissimilar to DARE to allow a fair comparison,” Ann Voit, a department spokeswoman, contended.

Officials of the research group could not be reached for comment late last week.

The Justice Department released a two-page summary of the study late last month, focusing on DARE’s popularity, user satisfaction, and application to districts with large minority populations. The summary touches on DARE’s limited success in reducing drug use but advises that the findings be interpreted cautiously.

Department Criticized

The Justice Department received some criticism for deciding not to publish the results in full, but Ms. Voit said copies of the report are available for those who want them. She added that it is not unusual for the department to distribute only a summary.

The full report is probably “the size of a small phone book,” Ms. Silverman of DARE added.

DARE also has drawn criticism for attempting to persuade the American Journal of Public Health to postpone publication of the “meta-analysis” study.

Mervyn Susser, the editor of the journal, said he had no hesitation in publishing it. The study received high marks from several external reviewers in addition to the journal’s reviewer and Mr. Susser himself.

“It’s quite rare to have four absolutely positive reviews with practically no concerns,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 1994 edition of Education Week as Study Critical of Anti-Drug Program Called Flawed