Attorney General Jeff Sessions called upon D.A.R.E.—a drug prevention education program that has been criticized in the past as ineffective and counterproductive—to help address the nation’s opioid crisis Tuesday, saying the group’s work is needed to keep drug traffickers from “finding new victims.”
“Experience has shown, sadly, that it is not enough that dangerous drugs are illegal,” Sessions told the organization at its annual training conference in Dallas. “We also have to make them unacceptable.”
Sessions criticized an approach to drugs that focuses more on treatment than criminal enforcement, which some have said is necessary to address the growing abuse of opioids, such as heroin, fentanyl, and prescription pain killers.
D.A.R.E. stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education. The program typically involves police officers coming into schools to warn of the dangers of gang involvement and drug use. Its popularity has somewhat waned since its founding in 1983 after a wave of academic and government studies questioned its effectiveness.
A 2003 report by the Government Accountability Office found that D.A.R.E. “had no statistically significant long-term effect on preventing youth illicit drug use.” Some have culturally lumped it in with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign.
In response to concerns about its effectiveness, D.A.R.E. worked with researchers to broaden its approach, teaching children about responsible decisionmaking. Some have said further study is needed to determine if the new approach will be effective in the long run.
Sessions said he believes the program has been effective.
“Whenever I ask adults around age 30 about prevention, they always mention the DARE program,” he told leaders Tuesday. “Your efforts work. Lives and futures are saved.”
In addition to aggressive enforcement, educators need to warn students of the dangers of drug use, Sessions told D.A.R.E leaders Tuesday:
We have to create a cultural climate that is hostile to drug abuse. In recent years, government officials were sending mixed messages about drugs. We need to send a clear message. We must have Drug Abuse Resistance Education. DARE is the best remembered anti-drug program. I am proud of your work. It has played a key role in saving thousands of lives and futures. So please—continue to let your voices be heard. I promise you that I will let my voice be heard. Our young people must understand that drugs are dangerous; that drugs will destroy their lives, or worse yet, end them. Let's get the truth out there and prevent new addictions and new tragedies—and make all of our communities safer."
Further reading on drugs and schools:
- Drug to Treat Opioid, Heroin Overdoses Offered Free to All U.S. High Schools
- Amid Opioid Crisis, Schools Help Students Heal (Video)
- Watch: Views on the Opioid Crisis From a School and the Author of Hillbilly Elegy
- Teen Drug, Alcohol Use Continues to Decline
- Marijuana Legalization Has Not Led to More Teen Use, Colorado Survey Finds
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.