To the Editor:
Your October 10th blog post “Drug Education Curriculum Moves Beyond ‘Just Say No’ to Teach Harm Reduction” promotes Safety First as a preferred prevention education model as compared with D.A.R.E. While not presented as an editorial endorsement of the Safety First approach, the article inaccurately compares and contrasts this “new approach” with an outdated version of D.A.R.E. curricula. A Safety First program manager is quoted saying that, “an abstinence-only approach is not working.” D.A.R.E. is not an abstinence-based curricula.
We wish the author and the editors of Education Week had spent even a few minutes to update themselves on today’s D.A.R.E. curricula which are both science- and evidence-based.
Between 2009 and 2019, all new D.A.R.E. curricula have been rolled out. The D.A.R.E. middle school and high school curricula have each been tested through rigorous longitudinal scientific evaluation and proven to be effective.
The rigorous, scientific evaluations of the middle school “keepin’ it REAL” curriculum—which is rooted in social-emotional learning—show students who completed the course experienced a 32 percent to 44 percent reduction in marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol use; 29 percent to 34 percent decrease in intent to accept substances; and a reduction and cessation in substance use among those already using. Can Safety First report similar results? With the exception of a pilot test its website references, I can find no published studies indicating that it has undergone any independent evaluation that demonstrates measureable positive outcomes.
In 2018, D.A.R.E. launched the most comprehensive K-12 Opioid and Prescription Drug Abuse lessons in the country, which more than 300,000 students received during the last school year. Just this past June, D.A.R.E. introduced two new enhancement lessons—Vaping Prevention and Teen Mental Health/Suicide Prevention—in response to crises facing families and communities throughout the country.
What’s concerning is that Education Week is presenting a program created by Drug Policy Alliance as a viable option. This organization is funded in part by George Soros’s foundation, with the principal goal of ending the American “War on Drugs” and promoting the legalization of marijuana. Safety First simply accepts that high-risk behavior will take place and that students should therefore be provided information on how to reduce harm rather than learn skills to make good decisions for safe and healthy living. Prevention education should be just that—prevention—and not a discussion that starts from an assumption that K-12 students will use drugs.
Chief Operating Officer
Culver City, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the November 13, 2019 edition of Education Week as Don’t Dismiss D.A.R.E.