SEATTLE -- Heroin fatalities here rose 294 percent from 1985 to 1995. A survey showed 88 percent of high school students had tried alcohol or other drugs.
What's a city to do? In Seattle this fall, the Police Department canceled its primary drug education program in the schools, DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). Spokane had pulled out a few weeks earlier.
The two cancellations are the latest and most prominent in a trickle of defections from the popular Los Angeles-founded program that sends uniformed officers into three-fourths of the Unites States' school districts to teach youngsters how to say no drugs, gangs and violence.
Communities in Colorado, Florida, Texas and Massachusetts have joined the search for alternative drug education programs.
In many cases, there's talk about budgets and the need to free officers for crime-fighting duties.
There is criticism in conservative circles about parental responsibility and, from the graying liberals, fears that DARE is turning children into family snitches.
In Seattle's case, it came down to a budget cut and a growing conviction that DARE did not work.
"What the research really shows is that the relationship that has developed between children and police officers is very important and very laudable, but the long-term effect on reducing drug and alcohol abuse is unknown and hasn't been substantiated," said Nancy McPherson, director of Seattle's community policing bureau.
A spate of recent studies pointing to a sharp upward curve in teen-age drug use (marijuana use climbed 141 percent from 1992 to 1995, the Department of Health and Human Services disclosed) has made it painfully clear that nobody has figured out what to do about it.
There's a lot of head scratching going on: We did such a good job, a remarkable job, really, of bringing down teen-age drug abuse in the late 1970s and 1980s. What happened?
In some ways, many drug education analysts say, we have been victims of our own success. Substantial reductions during the past 15 years mean that today's youngsters didn't grow up seeing the street-corner junkies their parents came to know and regret.
What have many teen-agers got now, these analysts ask, except an officer in the classroom telling them drugs are bad for their health?
"In 22 years, I've seen the whole thing become a big circle. There's a generation out there that thinks they invented marijuana," said Spokane police Sgt. Mike Prim, who is developing an alternative to DARE that will involve a wide range of patrol officers and will focus on safety in general.
"Things that I was taught, and things my parents and other people in authority told me, didn't kick in till I was in my 30s," Prim says.
"We're expecting after this thing has run out of L.A. for 12 years, and out of here for six years, we want the nation to change?"
Glenn Levant, DARE America's president, points out that for the slow leak of cities no longer in the program, 275 others have joined this year, including New York and Washington, expanding the number of cities to 10,000 in 49 nations worldwide.
Most studies critical of DARE's effectiveness, he says, evaluated an older curriculum, in use before DARE expanded to the junior high and high school level and adopted new interactive techniques for teaching kids, among other things, to resist peer pressure.
Teen-agers in surveys generally say their DARE training was beneficial. But what good is it, some wonder, to be told not to use drugs when all the reasons for using drugs are still there?
Pub Date: 11/29/96