Truth or Scare

Drug-using DARE graduates come clean about the program's faults.

Abigail needs all ten fingers to count the drugs she's done in her seventeen years.

"So I went from pot to alcohol...but then in the course of like two years, I started going into crystal meth, cocaine, ecstasy, GHB...What else have I done?"

"Special K?" Her boyfriend, Reid, prompts her from where he sits on the bed in her room.

"I've done Special K, mescaline, acid, um, heroin by accident--"
"Oops," jokes Reid, and they both erupt in laughter.
"Yeah, morphine, Valium...um, I shot up crystal once," Abigail continues. "Crank, crack--I've smoked crack--you know, I've done everything."

Like hundreds of thousands of Colorado teenagers, Abigail is a graduate of DARE, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program that promises to teach kids how to say no to drugs.

As Abigail talks, she paces in circles on her carpeted floor. "I just remember--we'd have these little skits on DARE, and they would always tell us that old men were going to come and give us, you know, pot or something and that we had to say no to them. I always had the picture of, like, an old man coming to my elementary school and being like, 'Here! Take some of this, it's good for ya.'"

Abigail used marijuana in eighth grade, three years after DARE "It's funny--I was expecting an old man to come up and give [drugs] to me, so when my friends gave them to me, it didn't feel like it mattered. They told us in DARE that we were going to be hallucinating, in convulsions in the corner off of pot, and really, that just doesn't happen.

"When I smoked pot, I realized that this isn't hurting me in any way, I'm not dying," Abigail says. "I'm not going into convulsions on the ground, so maybe I'm not susceptible to the death part of drugs. Because I wasn't dying, my friends weren't dying, you know, and I wasn't getting it from strangers but from close friends. So I thought it was okay, you know, and I never had the peer pressure they talk about in DARE."

"There's no pressure," says Reid. "You get yourself to do it."
Abigail flops into a chair in disgust. "No one wants to give out their drugs! For free? Please!"

The conversation is interrupted by Abigail's mother, who pokes her head in the door to announce that dinner is served. It was Abigail's mother who checked her into a rehabilitation program when Abigail's drug use became undeniable. Her mother says Abigail's life is finally back in order. "It brought tears to my eyes when I talked to Abigail's teacher the other day," she says. "She's doing so well now. She used to be pretty messed up."

Abigail brings a plate of salad and spaghetti into her room and shuts the door. The walls in her room are covered with tag names and messages written by her friends in permanent marker. The writing peeks out between fliers from raves and pictures of stars like Courtney Love, ripped from fashion magazines. There are also posters from the plays Abigail does at a Denver community theater. She is a senior at Colorado's Finest Alternative School in Englewood and plans to move to New York with Reid and work as an actress later in the year. A pink scarf hangs above her bed.

She says she doesn't feel that any particular program helped her discover the truth about her past drug problems.

"Nothing, no program out there could do it for me. I've taken a more advanced form of DARE, called the Ace Program, and that didn't help, you know. I went through rehab, and that didn't help. It was up to me to do drugs, and it was up to me to stop." Abigail's tongue ring scrapes the plate as she licks it clean. "That's what they should tell you in DARE: that sometimes it will be up to you."

DARE was started in Los Angeles in 1983. The Los Angeles Police Department and the L.A. Unified School District came up with the idea as a way to address a growing drug problem among the city's youth and to ease escalating animosity between kids and police officers. Although it was never intended to be a nationwide program, it coincided with the Reagan-era "War on Drugs" and attracted federal funds from the Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice through the Bureau of Justice Assistance. When the other 49 states began receiving money to begin their own forms of drug prevention, DARE became the national model and training centers popped up all over the U.S., says Janelle Krueger, program director of Safe & Drug-Free Schools & Communities (an office of the DPS Department of Social Services).

The city of Broomfield was the first to initiate the DARE program in Colorado, in the fall of 1987. Arvada, Longmont and Colorado Springs followed in 1988; Denver started its DARE program in November 1989. Denver's DARE headquarters are an affiliate of DARE Colorado, a nonprofit organization chartered by DARE America to "deliver DARE in Colorado."

Currently in Colorado, 115 DARE-affiliated law-enforcement agencies send out 325 DARE-trained police officers to teach the classes to 145,000 fifth-graders every year.

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