D.A.R.E. to Turn Focus Away from Drugs

D.A.R.E., the national nonprofit that has promoted "Drug Abuse Resistance Education" to elementary, middle, and high school students since the early 1980s, will all but drop anti-drug material from its curriculum for younger students, according to a state chapter leader. 

"D.A.R.E. America has determined that anti-drug material is not age-appropriate," the state affiliate leader, who asked not to be identified, told Reason. "The new curriculum focuses on character development."

News of a major curriculum change was first reported in early November when an elementary school resource officer in Kennewick, Washington told KNDU25, "The new curriculum starts as of December for us...it does not bring up the subject of marijuana at all." (Marijuana is the only illicit drug that D.A.R.E. claims to have reduced the use of through its educational programs. Drug reform advocates have slammed D.A.R.E. for its characterization of pot.)

I emailed D.A.R.E. America's headquarters in California on Nov. 6 (the same day Washington legalized recreational marijuana) hoping to learn more about the alleged curriculum change. I also emailed the head of the Washington chapter and the head of the regional chapter. I didn't hear back from any of them. 

Then late last week, a state affiliate contacted me to say that the Kennewick officer's claim was true. 

I called D.A.R.E. America to confirm. "There's a one-page document that explains all this," the D.A.R.E. America staffer told me. He then said, "Are you the guy who emailed about Washington?" I told him I was. He promised to email me the document explaining the curriculum change. We hung up. The document never arrived. 

The curriculum change could be another attempt by the organization to salvage its credibility with the scientific community. In 1999, the American Psychological Association conducted a study of D.A.R.E. graduates and concluded that its curriculum was ineffective. The Office of the Surgeon General made the same pronouncement in 2001, and the Government Accountability Office announced in 2003 that D.A.R.E. programming had actually correlated with increased drug use among some adolescents.  

Likely as a result of these reports, D.A.R.E. America's revenue declined from $10 million in 2002, to $3.7 million in 2010, the last year for which the organization's 990 records are publicly available. Likely as a result of the decline in revenue, D.A.R.E. America racked up million-dollar operational deficits in 2010 and 2009.

D.A.R.E. America's problems aren't just financial, however. It's also being sued--by D.A.R.E. New Jersey. According to a lawsuit filed in L.A., and first reported by Courthouse News, D.A.R.E. New Jersey is suing D.A.R.E. America for "put[ting] thousands of New Jersey school children at risk by revoking the state affiliate's charter, because it used its own drug abuse prevention program in elementary schools."

"D.A.R.E. America claims that D.A.R.E. New Jersey implemented the 'Too Good For Drugs' program surreptitiously, even though D.A.R.E. New Jersey has attempted to correspond with D.A.R.E. America about the program since 2011 and, in 2012, discussed the option in person with [nonparties] D.A.R.E. America's President and CEO Charlie Parsons and D.A.R.E. America's Executive Director, Frank Pegerous," the complaint reads.

The suit goes on to say that the decision "flies in the face of the unparalleled success of D.A.R.E. New Jersey and its commitment to drug abuse prevention education for hundreds of thousands of New Jersey school children and thousands of school administrators, teachers, and police officers who are united in the fight against drug abuse. It also is inconsistent with the management across the country because, virtually none of the programs affiliated with D.A.R.E. America exclusively offer D.A.R.E. Programs."

D.A.R.E. New Jersey isn't just any old D.A.R.E. outfit, however. According to 990 forms, The New Jersey group's revenue was $20 million in 2010, and $21.3 million in 2011. That makes it one of the few nonprofit affiliates in the country--possibly the only one--that has a budget five times the size of its national organization.