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BURLINGTON, N.C. – Fifth grade students at Highland Elementary in Burlington made a public pledge Thursday to be drug-free during a D.A.R.E graduation.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, or D.A.R.E, has been a staple in schools and police departments for decades.

“We’ve been doing it here in Burlington for over 30 years,” officer Michael Paschal said.

Times have changed and it seems that the list of negative influences for children today has gotten longer.

“Smoking, drinking, and then of course the current opioid problem that the entire country is having,” Paschal explained.

He said exposure to drugs, including opioid-related issues, could happen as early as middle school, reinforcement as to why D.A.R.E in schools is still relevant.

“You start seeing it in middle school and certainly into high school, so we teach our elementary curriculum, our fifth graders, to try to prepare them for that leap they make to middle school,” Paschal said.

Students shared what they learned across the 10-week program.

“We talked about what’s in drugs and how they make you feel and [the program] talked about what could happen to you if you did it,” Christina Bowers said.

“We realized that if someone is peer-pressuring you, you need to stay away from them and maybe just tell them no and if they’re telling you to do drugs, you can close your mouth or give a reason why not to,” Ethan Fogleman said.

More than 4,000 people between the ages of 15 and 24 died from a drug overdose in 2015, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens.

According to the data sheet, that included cocaine, heroin and “other illicit opioids.”

It’s hard to prove statistically if the program will make a difference down the road in a child’s life, but Burlington police believe in the investment.

“Any type of preventative work that can be done, any time that you can open up the doors of communication between law enforcement and the community absolutely is going to make a difference in at least one person’s life,” Sgt. Jennifer Matherly said.

D.A.R.E covers other topics including bullying, violence and peer pressure.

Burlington police are hoping to start a pilot program that will offer D.A.R.E to first and second grade students as early as spring 2018.

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