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Many Ohio Schools Dropping Drug Resistance Program

Westerville Police Officer Carrie O'Neil conducts a D.A.R.E. class at Emerson Elementary
Debbie Holmes
Westerville Police Officer Carrie O'Neil conducts a D.A.R.E. class at Emerson Elementary.

It started in the 1980’s as part of First Lady Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No to Drugs Program.”

Now Ohio schools are re-evaluating the Drug Abuse Resistance Program or D.A.R.E. Within the past decade the number of DARE officers has dropped dramatically in Ohio schools.

At one time, Ohio had more than 600 D.A.R.E. police officers in the classroom teaching kids to say no to drugs. Today there are 220.

But, after a generation, Ohio State University Professor Rick Petosa, who studied D.A.R.E. and other drug prevention programs, says the basic fear message doesn’t work on teenagers.

“If you look at it strictly from its impact on drug use, it has little to no drug impact,” says Petosa.

Columbus City schools and five suburban districts including Gahanna, Worthington, Dublin and Hilliard cut their DARE programs. They do have police officers or counselors who talk to students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Columbus City Schools Health Curriculum Coordinator, Don Cain says high school students learn from a textbook and video in a required semester long health class.

“I would say it’s very intense in what they’re doing with role-playing and like there’s one scenario of trying to get kids to resist peer pressure with using drugs,” Cain says.

Westerville schools kept DARE for 5th graders and some middle school students as part of a revamped anti-drug abuse effort.

Police officer Carrie O’Neil explains the curriculum changed last year and now includes “Keeping It Real.” O’Neil says the new program teaches kids how to say no to drugs and alcohol through role playing.

“We’re actually seeing them change their body language a little bit. Where there used to be slouching they’re actually standing up and looking the other person in the eye. And we focus on eye contact,” says O’Neil.

O’Neil also shows fifth graders the physical changes that happen to people who use drugs such as methamphetamines.

“It can also damage the blood vessels around your brain and you can get all kinds of nasty infections if you use needles and you’re sharing needles,” says O’Neil.

Fifth grader Max Sobel feels he has learned how to stand up to those who use drugs.

“It’s made me feel a lot more confident saying no because before we started D.A.R.E. I was just kind of unsure that it would work and then when we started D.A.R.E. I mean it made me feel confident like this is going to help me a lot in life,” says Sobel.

Officer O’Neil admits though there’s still no guarantee that a D.A.R.E. graduate will say no to drugs.

The Westerville Police Department pays the $77,000 salaries of O’Neil and second officer. Only $56,000 is funded by a grant from the state attorney general’s office.

OSU Professor Rick Petosa says in addition to not being effective the D.A.R.E. program has also been costly.

“Some people claim that the tragedy is that literally the billions of dollars that have been spent on the D.A.R.E. program could have been used for more effective programming,” says Petosa.

Petosa says zero-tolerance policies can also do more damage by disengaging students from school if they use drugs or alcohol. Petosa says giving accurate information can be more effective than anti-drug slogans and scare tactics.