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July 28, 2005 - The Concord Journal, The (MA)

DARE: Is It Really Telling Children The Truth?

By Alexander Tzelnic, a resident of Concord and a student at Skidmore College

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On the door to my room there is a bumper sticker that reads "Proud Parent of a DARE Graduate." I put this sticker on my door after 5th grade. I was not in fact a parent of a Drug Abuse Resistance Education graduate, but a recent graduate myself; one whose essay was picked to be read in front of a gathering of parents and teachers for its mature discussion on the perils of drug use. Now the bumper sticker serves as an ironic reminder of the path I have traveled since graduating the DARE program.

Our DARE program leader was a fine member of the Concord Police Department. He spent countless hours teaching our class what drugs did to one's health. We knew without a doubt that drugs essentially fried your brain. If we doubted this fact at all, we were reminded by the video showing an egg - -"This is your brain" - and then an egg being fried - "This is your brain on drugs." We practiced and learned countless techniques to avoid being sucked into the cold, dark world of drug use. If a drug dealer were to offer us drugs in the hypothetical future, we would respond with a firm "no" or explain that we were "allergic." If needed, we could revert to the conversation closer, the technique that put drug dealers to shame: the cold shoulder. We knew these techniques were essential because without them we would probably become addicted or die.

Entering high school I had not tried any substances. However I assumed that once in high school I would be offered drugs in a dark hallway and have to revert to the DARE resistance techniques, but was surprised to find that this situation never arose. My entrance into the world of drug use was surprisingly safe and natural. My best friend and I talked to another friend who drank alcohol before. We were impressed (that he was alive) but mostly we were curious. So, in the summer between freshman and sophomore year I failed my Drug Abuse Resistance Education. I drank alcohol. Amazingly, we all survived the night and actually enjoyed the experience. In fact, I learned something that night that the DARE program failed to teach: drugs feel great!

I now realize that it was not at that moment that I failed my Drug Abuse Resistance Education, it was years earlier that my education had failed me. The effort the DARE program makes is noble, but its methods are atrocious. I clearly remember the day our class was asking our DARE officer questions about drugs when someone asked "Have you ever done drugs?"

"Nope" was his steadfast reply.

"Not even alcohol?"

"Not even a sip" was the answer.

Now, if the officer was lying to us at this moment, shame on him; if he was telling the truth, then shame on the DARE program. Why would someone who's never done drugs be teaching children about drugs? I'm sure our DARE officer was very familiar with different types of drugs and their effects, but how does that help a roomful of children who - as it is statistically proven - will probably try drugs at some point in their lives, and need to know how to deal with that specific experience?

What happens when a DARE graduate tries drugs and notice that their brain has not turned into a frying egg? What happens when a DARE graduate tries drugs and actually likes them? This is something the DARE program did not prepare us for. And when this occurred, and it probably did for most of my peers, their DARE education was as good as dead. I am in my sophomore year of college now and have been offered drugs numerous times. However, I was never offered them by anyone other than a close friend. And I never needed to use the cold shoulder. I said no if I didn't want to try something and yes if I did. There are drugs that I have done only once, without breaking out into a cold sweat and craving them the next day. There are drugs that I have done more than once without dying. I have made admittedly reckless and stupid decisions in the past, and was forced to learn from them. However, I made those decisions partly because I realized much of my drug "education" was false, and wanted to find out for myself what was true.

I now attend Skidmore College and am doing just fine. The DARE program never said that one can succeed and use drugs, and this is one of the biggest dangers that it fails to warn against. Because the more one uses drugs and believes they can continue to succeed, the more inclined they are to abuse drugs and eventually fail. Yet we were taught you cannot succeed and use drugs at the same time, so this issue was ignored. Drugs can in fact be very dangerous. But we were not taught how to deal with these dangers once we had tried drugs, only how to resist them in the first place.

I believe the ultimate goal of the DARE program is important. We should teach children about drugs and drug abuse. But not by lying to them and presenting drug use as a win/lose situation. Drugs are not inherently evil and neither are the people who use them. My classmates and I were not told the whole truth. We were brainwashed to an extent, only to become disillusioned a few years down the road. The strange and scary world of drug use was in fact fun and exciting when we first encountered it. But we did not know how to deal with this feeling because the goal of the DARE program was to shelter us from ever having it.

Children should be taught about drugs. Someone who has done drugs, even abused them, and knows what it is like to be a teenager in today's day and age should be their teacher. They should be taught that drugs feel very good, which is part of their danger. They should be taught the truth so that they are better prepared for life as a high school and college student. The DARE program must realize that complete and utter resistance to drugs is an unrealistic and dangerous goal. The discrepancy between what the DARE program taught me and my peers about drugs and our actual experiences is scary and real. It should not be ignored.

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