Drug Abuse Resistance Education, better known as D.A.R.E., plans to launch an opioid-use prevention lesson program at the beginning of 2018.
The widely known anti-drug abuse education program that gained momentum in the 1980s and 1990s will be reviewing educational materials produced by health education nonprofit WiRED International. If the materials meet D.A.R.E. standards, they will be distributed to schools across the country next year.
The move comes alongside the startling rise of opioid abuse, overdoses, and deaths. Opioid deaths have become so frequent that they're shortening overall life expectancy in the United States, and fatal fentanyl overdoses have increased exponentially within three short years in some of America's largest cities.
The crisis has caught the attention of the White House. President Donald Trump created a commission to combat opioid abuse and suggested that he could declare a state of emergency on the issue.
However, D.A.R.E. staff told IJR that they no longer receive much federal funding. D.A.R.E.'s large sums of federal funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice Drug Prevention within the Department of Justice dried up 10 years ago.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking at D.A.R.E.'s annual training conference in July, told the crowd that they had the support of the president, and he recognized the program's success during the drug epidemic of the 1970s and 80s.
“I firmly believe that your work saves lives,” he said. “No doubt about it, it helped turn the tide.”
D.A.R.E. has faced increased scrutiny in recent years. Several studies questioned the program's effectiveness and determined students in the program were just as likely to use drugs as those not enrolled.
Today's curriculum is quite different, D.A.R.E. staff says.
The new program, which has been commended by the United States Surgeon General's office, favors decision-making models over the old-school “just say no” approach. This new curriculum reaches about 1.5 million students each year.
“It's not a [police] officer up there lecturing students. It is really an interactive program,” Richard Mahan, the director of communications for D.A.R.E. told IJR. “And while it still focuses on drugs, it is really focused primarily on providing students, young people, with the skills to make healthy and safe decisions.”
Despite the president's support, D.A.R.E. hasn't received any specific financial boosts from the Trump administration or federal agencies.
Mahan, who said D.A.R.E. is always open to exploring federal grants, believes a little bit of funding goes a long way.
“Ten or 20 more trainings equal educating hundreds of thousands of kids.”