WASHINGTON, April 26 (UPI) — One of the Feds’ more beleaguered sacred cows — DARE, the “Drug Abuse Resistance Education” curriculum now taught in 80 percent of school districts nationwide — turned 20 this month.

Since its founding in 1983, America’s most expensive and pervasive drug education program has experienced more than its share of growing pains. These include:

*A 1991 University of Kentucky study of 2,071 sixth graders that found no difference in the past-year use of cigarettes, alcohol or marijuana among DARE graduates and non-graduates two years after completing the program.

*A 1996 University of Colorado study of over 940 elementary school students that found no difference with regard to illicit drug use, delay of experimentation with illicit drugs, self-esteem, or resistance to peer pressure among DARE graduates and non-graduates three years after completing the program.

*A 1998 University of Illinois study of 1,798 elementary school students that found no differences with regard to recent use of illicit drugs among DARE graduates and non-graduates six years after completing the program.

*A 1999 follow-up study by the University of Kentucky that found no difference in lifetime, past-year, or past-month use of marijuana among DARE graduates and non-graduates 10 years after completing the program.

In addition, a federal evaluation by the General Accounting Office released earlier this year said the program has had “no statistically significant long-term effect on preventing youth illicit drug use.”

Students who participate in DARE demonstrate “no significant differences …” in “attitudes toward illicit drug use” or “resistance to peer pressure” compared with children who had not been exposed to the program, the GAO determined.

Nevertheless, despite these critiques, it appears that the politically popular program will live on well into old age. Each U.S. president since George H.W. Bush more than a decade ago has endorsed “National DARE Day.”

So why does DARE remain so prevalent when study after study shows it doesn’t work?

One possibility is that for many civic leaders, teaching children to refrain from drugs simply “feels good.” Therefore, advocates of the DARE program perceive any scrutiny of their effectiveness to be overly critical and unnecessary.

A second explanation is that DARE and similar youth anti-drug education programs appear to work. Most kids who graduate DARE do not engage in drug use beyond the occasional beer or marijuana cigarette. However, this reality is hardly an endorsement of DARE but an acknowledgment of the statistical fact that most teens — even without DARE — never engage in any significant drug use.

Looking for a third possible explanation? Follow the money trail. Even though DARE has been a failure at persuading kids to steer away from drugs, it has been a marketing cash cow, filling its coffers with anywhere from $600 million to $750 million in annual federal aid.

Like a junkie, DARE is addicted to the money and will do whatever it takes to get it. Meanwhile, its proponents remain in a state of denial, caring more about political posturing than embracing a youth drug education program that really works.

After 20 years of failure, isn’t it about time we dare to admit the truth?

”’Paul Armentano is a senior policy analyst for The NORML Foundation, a group that supports liberalization of America’s marijuana laws, in Washington.”’

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