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Has anyone ever been helped by a high school drug education class in this country? Is there any program out there that has been shown to keep kids off hard drugs? As a child, Your 5$F endured annual visits from Maureen the Drug Lady. Maureen was a 60-year-old recovering alcoholic with a Boston accent you could drive a truck through. She made her living telling high school kids that that they’d end up eating from a dumpster if they sniffed markers. Maureen was especially bothered by the ones that had different smells for each color. Blueberry markers were a gateway drug!

Those markers smelled so good!

Jeff Sessions’ didn’t mention markers in his address to the 30th DARE Training Conference on Tuesday. But he did advocate a return to mandatory minimums and harsher sentences for drug crimes. And he waxed nostalgic for the good old days when DARE sent cops into schools to teach kids that drugs were NOT COOL.

I believe that DARE was instrumental to our success by educating children on the dangers of drug use. I firmly believe that you have saved lives. And I want to say thank you for that. Whenever I ask adults around age 30 about prevention, they always mention the DARE program. Your efforts work. Lives and futures are saved.

Ol’ Jeff does get confused sometimes. He remembers that Eric Holder was soft on crime, but he forgets that the crime rate was a whole lot higher in 2008 than it was in 2016. He remembers that we have an opioid epidemic, but he forgets that Perdue Pharma sent a team of pushers to tell Middle America that Oxycontin would make them feel good.

And Jeff Sessions remembers DARE as a program that helped keep kids off drugs. Which it most certainly did not. In 1994 the Justice Department buried a study which proved that half the nation’s kids were wasting their time in a useless drug program. WaPo reports,

In 1994, the Research Triangle Institute, funded in part by the Justice Department, conducted a meta-analysis of all the existing research on DARE. Its conclusion was withering: DARE had little to no impact on rates of teen drug use.

The Justice Department was so incensed by this unexpected finding that it refused to publish the study, according to contemporaneous news reports. “I don’t get it,” DARE’s executive director at the time said of the RTI study’s findings. “It’s like kicking Santa Claus to me. We’re as pure as the driven snow.”

Which is an apt analogy, considering DARE and Santa are both cherished by children, only to be rejected by the surly adolescents they become. But a child who realizes that no jolly, fat man came down the chimney can comfort himself with a stocking full of candy canes. Whereas a teenager who acted out Just Saying No with Officer Friendly is left with a worthless lump of coal to help her navigate a complicated world.

They meant well.

But they didn’t know how to save us.

And as far as Your 5$F can see, they still don’t know. Last year, Kid 5$F spent several mornings being lectured by a recovering addict on the inevitable slide from beer, to marijuana, to pills, to injecting heroin.

Your 5$F wondered how a person who cannot safely consume alcohol was going to teach a roomful of 15-year-old boys about responsible drinking. Might it be time to switch up the curriculum in light of the legalization of marijuana in 26 states?

“Oh, no! This program has saved so many kids,” the guidance counselor assured her. “Every year, the boys come to us after, and they tell us who in the class is having a problem.”

“You mean the purpose is to get them to narc each other out? This isn’t about teaching them to make good decisions? Are you kidding me?!?!”

Safe to say, Your 5$F will not be invited to join the PTA any time soon.

Unfortunately, this seems to be pretty standard.

“You go into the school for 90 minutes and deliver information,” said DeLeon. “It’s got to be captivating. It’s got to be engaging. It’s got to be believable and then it’s got to be entertaining.”

Based on pre- and post-presentation surveys he does with students, he can tell the message is getting through. For instance, before the presentation, about 30% of students might say they would tell their parents if their friend was doing drugs. After the presentation, that number jumps to around 70%, he said.

WAIT, WHAT? He wants to take credit for risk reduction based on a survey administered the day of the program? Now that’s the kind of science Jeff “Reefer Panic” Sessions can get down with!

So what does work? Well, instead of trying to scare the shit out of ’em, give the kids something to do!

Developmental assets are strengths both internal and external to students that when present, markedly reduce the likelihood of a young person engaging in risky behaviors, including alcohol and drug use. Assets include things like experiencing a caring, encouraging school environment; having a useful role in the community; and spending three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in community organizations.

Of course, it’s hard to run basketball and band class if you intend to cut education funding by 13.5%. But they’re all good at something, and kids take better care of themselves when they feel good about chess or cheerleading or church choir.

Beyond that, your 5$F just does not know. Although next time she’s tempted to lose her shit at the guidance counselor, she plans to draw on data from The National Institute of Justice evaluating popular drug education programs. Apparently, they’re not all junk!

And that’s One to Grow On! Now let’s all eat a gummy bear and enjoy these videos.

[Sessions Speech Transcript / VoxWaPo / Education World / CNN]

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