HEADLINE: Unsafe at Any Speed;
Turning kids into druggies and snitches.
BYLINE: James Bovard;
James Bovard's most recent book is Shakedown: How Government Screws You From A
to Z (Viking).
t is not unusual for different government programs to undercut each other, but
current U.S. drug policy is a case study in contradiction. On the one hand,
schools are engaged in an all-out effort to discourage drug use; on the other
hand, the forced medication of school children is soaring. American parents face
the worst of both worlds: lousy, self-defeating government drug education
programs -- and the massive doping of children with government -approved drugs,
often at the behest of public school officials.
American schools are providing more anti-drug use education than ever before,
primarily through the DARE program -- Drug Abuse Resistance Education. Federal,
state, and local governments and private donors are spending roughly $700
million a year on DARE, which is currently being taught by police officers to
more than 5 million children in more than 250,000 classrooms each year.
DARE in operation sometimes resembles a religious crusade. As an article in
the Minneapolis Star Tribune noted, "Schools in Minnesota fly the DARE flag.
Students can buy DARE frisbees, wear a DARE wristwatch or sing the official DARE
song." Students are also able to win or purchase DARE pencils, erasers,
workbooks, and certificates of achievement. There are DARE bears, DARE jeeps
driven by police, and DARE bumper stickers as far as the eye can see.
Politicians love it, of course, and none more so than Bill Clinton. During his
State of the Union address on January 23, the president pointed to his special
guests seated in the balcony and declared, "People like these DARE officers are
making a real impression on grade school children that will give them the
strength to say no when the time comes."
The DARE curriculum is taught by police primarily to fifth and sixth graders
one hour a week for seventeen weeks, though children as young as kindergarten
and as old as senior high school also receive DARE instruction. The police serve
as role models, trusted confidants, and wise men and women. Unfortunately , DARE
appears to be relatively ineffective at preventing drug abuse, and is far less
effective than some competing drug education programs.
The federal Bureau of Justice Assistance, the research branch of the U.S.
Justice Department, paid $300,000 to the Research Triangle Institute (RTI), a
North Carolina research firm, to conduct an analysis of the effectiveness of
DARE. RTI researchers completed their report and submitted it to the Justice
Department in February 1994 -- whereupon the Justice Department refused to
publish it, the first report out of hundreds commissioned in recent years that
the agency refused to print. A summary of the report was finally published by
the American Journal of Public Health in September 1994.
The RTI study found that DARE has been far less effective at discouraging
drug abuse than have other "interactive" teaching methods. DARE was found to be
less effective in every category -- knowledge and attitudes towards drugs,
social skills, and drug use itself. RTI concluded:
For drug use, the average effect size for interactive programs was three times
greater than the average DARE effect size; for social skills, four times greater
than DARE; and for attitudes, three times greater. These findings suggest that
greater effectiveness is possible with school-based drug use prevention programs
for fifth- and sixth-grade pupils than is achieved by the original DARE core
Overall, DARE was found to deter drug, alcohol, or tobacco use in only a
statistically insignificant three percent of program participants. DARE's
minimal deterrence was achieved via discouraging the use of alcohol and tobacco
, not illicit drugs. Researchers concluded that "DARE's limited influence on
adolescent drug behavior contrasts with the program's popularity and prevalence.
An important implication is that DARE could be taking the place of other, more
beneficial drug-use curricula."
DARE's use of police officers as instructors has also come under attack. As a
report by a committee of concerned Massachusetts parents from the Ashfield
-Sanfield school district concluded last June, "There is nothing new about
police coming into schools to teach survival skills. What is new about DARE is
police coming into schools to teach attitudes and mental health." Unfortunately
, some police have had other things in mind. In the official DARE Implementation
Guide, police are advised to be alert for signs of children who have relatives
who use drugs. As officers of the law, these DARE instructors are duty bound
to follow up leads that might come to their attention through inadvertent or
indiscreet comments by young children.
After police win the children's trust, children sometimes confide to the
police the names of people the children suspect are illegally using drugs. For
example, nine-year old Darrin Davis of Douglasville, Georgia, called 911 after
he found a small amount of speed hidden in his parents' bedroom, because, as he
told a reporter:
At school, they told us that if we ever see drugs, call 911 because people who
use drugs need help.... I thought the police would come get the drugs and tell
them that drugs are wrong. They never said they would arrest them. It didn't say
that in the video. The police officer held me by the shoulder and made me watch
them put handcuffs on my mom and dad and put them in the police car. l always
thought police were honest and told the truth. But in court, I heard them tell
the judge that I wanted my mom and dad arrested. That is a lie. I did not tell
Both parents lost their jobs, a bank threatened to foreclose on their home, and
his father was kept in jail for three months. Darrin became so agitated that he
burnt down part of a neighbor's house because he said he wanted to be with his
father in jail. Darrin's parents later filed for a divorce; according to Jay
Bouldin, the Davis' attorney, the strain caused by the bust played a major role
in destroying their marriage.
DARE spokeswoman Roberta Silverman argued that drug busts which occur after
the training are often unfairly linked to DARE. But the Wall Street Journal
noted in 1992: "In two recent cases in Boston, children who had tipped police
stepped out of their homes carrying DARE diplomas as police arrived to arrest
their parents." Similar DARE-related drug busts of parents have been reported in
Colorado, Oklahoma, Maryland, and Maine.
DARE officials stress that the program does not encourage children to turn
family members for violating laws against drug use. But if that is not the
program's intention, surely it is a result of its propaganda materials. One of
the DARE lessons that police give students in kindergarten through fourth grade
emphasizes DARE's "Three R's": "Recognize, Resist, and Report." The official
DARE Officer's Guide for Grades K-4 contains a worksheet that instructs children
to "Circle the names of the people you could tell if . . . a friend finds some
pills"; the "Police" are listed along with "Mother or Father," "Teacher," or
"Friend." The next exercise instructs children to check off whom they should
inform if "asked to keep a secret" -- "Police" is again listed as an option. The
idea that anyone should keep a secret from the proper authorities is apparently
Although thousands of schools nationwide proudly post "Drug-Free School Zone"
signs outside their buildings, this hasn't kept them from simultaneously
arranging to have kids routinely drugged for the teachers' benefit. Across the
country, school children line up outside of their principal's or nurse's offices
at lunchtime in order to get another dose of Ritalin, an amphetamine -related
stimulant that calms some children down. Schools sometimes pressure parents to
administer Ritalin to hyperactive and allegedly hyperactive kids to make the
children more docile in the classroom.
Ritalin is being prescribed largely in response to an alleged epidemic of
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Potential side effects include "stunted
growth, facial tics, agitation and aggression, insomnia, appetite loss,
headaches, stomach pain and seizures." According to the DEA, the amount of
Ritalin produced and used in the U.S. has increased sixfold since 1990 -- a
faster rate of growth than for probably any illicit substance. An estimated four
million Americans, most of them children, are now on Ritalin. Patrick Welsh, an
Alexandria, Virginia, teacher, wrote in the Washington Post: "A former Fairfax
teacher told me, only half joking, that most little boys in her elementary
school were 'either labeled gifted and talented, or on Ritalin.'"
Federal judge Martin Loughlin ruled that a New Hampshire school district had
violated federal education law by prohibiting an eight-year old from attending
school unless his parents agreed to drug him with Ritalin. (The parents
complained that Ritalin made their son act like a "zombie.") Loughlin declared
that the child's "right to a free appropriate education could not be premised on
the condition that he be medicated without his parents' consent." The Atlanta
Journal and Constitution reported in 1992, "In Gwinnett [County, Georgia],
lawsuits have been filed by parents against school officials and doctors
alleging malpractice and fraud when they advised the use of Ritalin without
telling parents about severe side effects."
Since 1990, the number of schoolchildren in Massachusetts receiving Ritalin
has more than doubled. The Boston Globe noted that "some specialists say that
schoolchildren are being diagnosed and medicated for the disorder in too
cavalier a fashion," in part because of "increased pressure on financially
troubled schools to provide a quick fix for disruptive children."
In January the Food and Drug Administration announced that a laboratory test
showed that Ritalin can cause cancer in mice. But FDA deputy drug director
Murray Lumpkin assured parents that "it's not enough of a signal that we think
kids should be taken off the drug." It is rare for FDA officials to rush to
comment on studies showing potential carcinogenic effects of drugs -- but
Ritalin, apparently, is special.
Not surprisingly, Ritalin is also being abused by students who do not have
prescription. If the drug is crushed and snorted, it provides a quick high.
Schools have cracked down on abusers, who could also face federal drug
trafficking charges for passing around or selling their siblings' Ritalin
prescriptions. However, at some point the absurdity of the conflicting policies
must become self-evident: Ritalin is wonderful if taken with government sanction
and terrible if taken without sanction. Come to think of it, that's also how
they feel about gambling.