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Drug Education Virtually Ineffective, More Money Needed, Says U.S. Department of Education Report


March-April 1997

Many students try drugs between the fifth and eighth grades despite the billions of dollars spent by the federal government on drug education since 1987. A Research Triangle Institute study, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, evaluated drug education programs from 1991 to 1995. The study followed 10,000 fifth and sixth-graders in 19 school districts for four years, tracking their drug use habits and the types of drug prevention programs to which they were exposed (E. Suyapa Silvia and Judy Thorne, "School Based Drug Prevention Programs: A Longitudinal Study In Selected School Districts," Research Triangle Institute, February 1997; Press Release, "Department Releases New Study on Drug Prevention Efforts, Riley Calls for Increased Efforts to Rid Schools of Drugs," U.S. Department of Education, February 21, 1997; Associated Press, "Billions spent, but job not done," Washington Times, February 25, 1997, p. A14).

Alcohol was the intoxicating substance most widely used by students at any grade level, and it was the first drug that most students tried. One third of the students surveyed had drunk alcohol before or while in grade five. Eighteen percent of eighth-graders and 24% of ninth-graders reported being heavy users of alcohol, defined as having a drink more than 10 times or being drunk at least once in the past 30 days. Eighteen percent of eighth- and ninth-graders reported using marijuana in the 30 days preceding the survey, and 5% reported smoking at least 10 times in the last 30 days. Twenty-six percent of the ninth-graders smoked cigarettes in the 30 days prior to the survey.

The report suggests that future prevention programs should be based on research, be more consistent, and provide teachers with new techniques. "What we really want to do is to begin to get school districts to examine what they're doing," said Bill Modzeleski, director of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program in the U.S. Department of Education.

The department said there should be tighter standards for programs to receive federal funds. For example, the report cited better results at schools that took part in programs other than DARE, which is funded in part by the Department of Education and operates in about 70% of the nation's fifth-grade classrooms. U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley proposed a statutory requirement that state recipients of federal funds from the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act use them according to principles of drug education effectiveness that will be published this spring in the Federal Register for public comment.

Despite the negative results, the Department of Education wants $620 million for its Safe and Drug-Free Schools program for 1998, an increase from $558 million appropriated this year and $438 million appropriated in 1996.

The executive summary of "School Based Drug Prevention Programs: A Longitudinal Study in Selected School Districts" may be obtained from the Planning and Evaluation Service, U.S. Department of Education, 600 Independence Ave., SW, Room 4162, Washington, DC 20202-8240 or Tel: (202) 401- 0590. The report is on-line at:

Research Triangle Institute, P.O. Box 12194, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, Tel: (919) 541-6000.