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Most Antidrug Programs Ineffective but Costly, Analysis Shows


June 1993

Conventional antidrug programs are ineffective and costly, and a different approach is needed, according to a recent analysis in the Washington Monthly (Jeff Elliott, "Just Say Nonsense: Nancy Reagan's Drug Education Programs Don't Reduce Use, But They Do Waste Hundreds Of Millions Of Dollars," Washington Monthly, May 1993, p. 18).

Various acronymic antidrug programs -- DARE, STAR, ALERT, and others, have been sold to school administrators as proven products, when evaluations either show insignificant results or are simply so flawed as to be meaningless. Although all the conventional programs are wasteful and costly, DARE, by using police officers who are paid with tax dollars, is by far the most expensive and wasteful program, according to the analysis by Jeff Elliott. A growing number of surveys have shown the program has little or no significant impact on future drug use.

One program that has proven effective, however, is a preschool project that involves repeated home visits by counselors to parents of inner city children. These visits focus on child development and parenting skills, not antidrug propaganda. More than 70 percent of the inner city kids who complete this program avoid drug dealing, a percentage significantly greater than that for nonparticipating peers. Follow up shows the results continue into young adulthood. The program was first launched in 1962.

Another approach that is likely to be effective in reducing harmful drug use is acknowledging that drug use will occur and teaching responsible use. But, at least for the present, this is unlikely to occur, as federal guidelines stipulate that drug education preach only "no illegal use of legal substances and no use of illegal substances." Suggesting that responsible use is possible is taboo.