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Jesse Adams ’07: Against the tide of DARE’s misinformation

By
Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I heard it for the first time in first grade and then again every single year from the fourth grade to the end of high school: “Drugs are bad. Drugs are addictive and destroy your life. Drugs will kill you.”

Considering that this message came from my kindly neighborhood police officer, the guidance counselor with the never-ending supply of Tootsie Roll Pops and eventually my high school’s endearingly dim-witted football coach, I was at first inclined to believe their obviously well-intentioned warnings. But over time, just like thousands of kids who have endured the DARE program, my peers and I became jaded and cynical.

As much as William Bennett and the Moral Majority would like to blame the “immoral” and “subversive” media such as Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” or the Macintosh shareware classic “Happy-weed” for tempting corruptible children, the truth is that everyone I knew growing up spent far more time playing the video game “NARC,” a violent shoot-’em-up in which Drug Enforcement Administration agents mercilessly slaughter evil drug dealers and addicts with a formidable array of high-tech weaponry. For kids who grew up watching idols like Kurt Cobain self-destruct, drugs were hardly exciting or glamorous.

No, what turned the kids I knew against DARE was the blatant inconsistency of the (mis)information it provided. Depending on what pamphlet you read, one “marijuana cigarette” caused the equivalent lung damage of three normal cigarettes or an entire pack. Psychedelic mushrooms killed either 500 or 5,000 people per year. Cocaine caused instant heart attacks in one out of a hundred users or one out of a thousand. And for all the talk of marijuana as the direct gateway to amotivation, failure and eventual hellfire, many of our parents had indulged in the past without destroying their lives or careers. For most kids, I think, it seemed ridiculous to respect warnings from an organization with such a clear lack of respect for its audience’s intelligence.

Such misinformation, by this point, isn’t really any one person’s fault. Over the last century, virtually all government information about drugs has been manipulated by some agenda. At first, much of it was racially motivated, as opium was associated with Chinese and marijuana with blacks and Hispanics. In later years, the deception continued as increasingly powerful drug czars sought to consolidate their influence and secure ever-greater funding for their agencies. Now, staying “tough” on drugs using tactics including misinformation is an easy way for politicians to gain political capital.

What we have now is a vacuum of readily available truthful information about drugs, at least for those who don’t want to conduct their own extensive research online. In the absence of education that could encourage safety, I have witnessed some truly dangerous drug-related activity: smokers wrecking their constitutions by single-handedly burning through ounces of marijuana in a matter of weeks; students snorting Adderall so that they can do their homework after an evening of using downers; even people assaulting their livers by washing down prescription painkillers with copious amounts of alcohol. Since prohibition is clearly impossible, harm reduction should be the goal. It is clear that students need an objective, trustworthy and confidential source for factual information about drugs and drug safety.

Last year, the Drug Resource Center opened as a joint project between Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Department of Health Education. Its mission is to provide unbiased and truthful information about drug use, including the dangers thereof. The DRC’s volunteers are trained to direct visitors to the best sources of information so as to reduce harm. A more informed student body will be a safer one.

I encourage all students to visit the DRC, regardless of their personal stance regarding drugs – knowledge is power, and power is safety.

Jesse Adams ’07 is the music editor of post- and media co-chair of SSDP.

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