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GAO-03-172R Youth Illicit Drug Use Prevention:
DARE Long-Term Evaluations and Federal Efforts
to Identify Effective Programs

United States General Accounting Office
January 15, 2003

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Abstract [Full Text of Report]

To identify evaluations on the effectiveness of DARE at preventing illicit drug use among children, we searched social science, business, and education databases, which included the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Library of Medicine, for evaluations of DARE published in professional journals. We identified articles published in the 1990s on six evaluations of the DARE elementary school curriculum that included illicit drug use as an outcome measure and that also met key methodological criteria for our review, such as a long-term evaluation design and the use of intervention and control groups for comparisons.

To determine federal efforts to identify programs that are effective in preventing youth illicit drug use, we interviewed federal officials and reviewed documentation on efforts by HHS and the Department of Education (Education) to recognize programs that demonstrate success in reducing illicit drug use among children and adolescents. We did not independently verify the results of prevention programs recognized by the federal agencies. We conducted our work from January through December 2002 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

In brief, the six long-term evaluations of the DARE elementary school curriculum that we reviewed found no significant differences in illicit drug use between students who received DARE in the fifth or sixth grade (the intervention group) and students who did not (the control group). Three of the evaluations reported that the control groups of students were provided other drug use prevention education. All of the evaluations suggested that DARE had no statistically significant long-term effect on preventing youth illicit drug use. Of the six evaluations we reviewed, five also reported on students' attitudes toward illicit drug use and resistance to peer pressure and found no significant differences between the intervention and control groups over the long term. Two of these evaluations found that the DARE students showed stronger negative attitudes about illicit drug use and improved social skills about illicit drug use about 1 year after receiving the program. These positive effects diminished over time. [Source: Open Minds Industry Resources Library. Open Minds is the research firm that conducted the GAO study.]

February 5, 2003: The Journal of the American Medical Association publishes a brief 1/3 page about the January 15, 2003 GAO study, describing how the most widely used school-based substance abuse prevention program in the U.S. (DARE) does not prevent drug use or change students' attitudes towards drugs. The DARE website states that "30 independent studies" show that DARE is effective; however, a spokesperson was unable to provide details. [JAMA 289: 539, GAO: DARE Does Not Work, by Brian Vastag]