The dubious effectiveness of D.A.R.E. and problems in nonprofits

The researchers even found a small ‘boomerang’ effect on suburban students; that is, suburban students who went through the D.A.R.E. program were more likely to gravitate toward drugs than their control group peers. The researchers offered a number of theories for this unexpected and unintended consequence, with the most plausible scenario emerging that suburban children were less knowledgable about drug use and drug paraphernalia going into the program and therefore could be unintentionally recruited into drug use by the information provided by the D.A.R.E. officers. In this view, a drug prevention education program became a drug use education program, with very unappealing implications.

That’s from Ken Stern’s With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give, which is worth reading though shallow in some places. D.A.R.E. and similar programs also completely ignore why people like drugs (and sex) in the first place: because they’re fun.

That’s obvious to pretty much everyone who has tried them. If they weren’t fun, people wouldn’t do them and they wouldn’t go from recreation to problems. When people get old enough to try drugs and sex for themselves, they discover that the many terrible consequences warned of by D.A.R.E. officers don’t actually manifest themselves in most cases. Pot isn’t a gateway drug: most people who smoke it don’t go on to become heroin addicts (though many do go on to become college professors, as I discovered by talking to mine).

Yet there are real dangers in drugs and sex, and by lumping in the non-dangerous aspects with the dangerous aspects, programs like D.A.R.E. fail to draw the distinctions necessary to discern the dangers. Such programs also encourage lying more generally. I have written before about my own participation in the drug-fear-mongering-industrial complex:

There’s a wide and funny drift of self-knowing hypocrisy in these essays [from Sugar in my Bowl], many of which feel like the writer is talking to their younger selves, as when Ariel Levy says: “I smoked pot when I was twelve. I dropped acid when I was thirteen. Losing my virginity was the next logical step. It’s not like these things were necessarily fun. Well, the pot, actually, was great—unless you are reading this and you are twelve, in which case it was awful.” This reminds me of the first weekend I smoked pot, in high school (it wasn’t great: I don’t much care for the feeling, although I understand that many others do). The next week, a friend said she was going to the elementary school a block from my house to talk about D.A.R.E., which is a dumb and ineffective program. She invited me to go with her. Most importantly, this got me out of a couple classes. I went, spouted platitudes, felt like the world’s most terrible hypocrite. When we left, I told my friend about my experience with pot. She said, “I got wasted this weekend.”

So far as I know, we both turned out reasonably okay. So why not admit, unabashedly, “the pot, actually was great,” and leave the qualification out?

Greenhook_Ginsmith_GinDrugs can, in fact, be dangerous, and drug prohibition makes them more so by guaranteeing that you can’t really trust the quality of the drugs in the same way you can trust, say, the quality of gin (like the delicious Greenhook Ginsmith gin depicted in the photo on the right). If we could buy drugs like we can buy gin, condoms, or the other finer things in life, they wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous.

One other note: I’m somewhat skeptical that suburban kids lack knowledge about drug paraphernalia (although maybe this was more true prior to the age of the Internet). Have you seen the people who are usually knowledgable about drug paraphernalia? On the whole they do not strike me as a tremendously knowledgable, imaginative group in general. While there are obviously some exceptions, most are not exactly National Merit finalists, and if they can figure out how to construct a water bong, so can a reasonably bright AP Physics student, with or without his D.A.R.E. officer.

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