The History of D.A.R.E.

D.A.R.E.’s Story as a Leader in Drug Prevention Education


Recognizing that enforcement alone will never curtail the use and abuse of illicit drugs, a partnership was established between the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in 1983 to create a new drug resistance education program for elementary school students.

Because few drug prevention curricula were available for schools to adopt at that time, Dr. Ruth Rich, Health Education Curriculum Administrator for the LAUSD, developed the original 17-lesson elementary school D.A.R.E. curriculum. The new curriculum, based upon prevailing prevention science at the time, emphasized teaching specific information about specific drugs and their negative effects.

Unlike all other drug prevention curricula, LAPD police officers were trained to teach the D.A.R.E. curriculum, thereby putting a local, “human face” on drug prevention in schools.

The original D.A.R.E. curriculum was more non-interactive than interactive. While discussion was encouraged, the prevailing approach in the original curriculum involved the D.A.R.E. Officer teaching each lesson.

At the time, virtually no classroom teachers had received instruction in their college courses about drug use/abuse or any instruction on how to deliver drug prevention lessons. Increasing acknowledgment of D.A.R.E. and the fact that LAPD D.A.R.E. officers could train other “local” law enforcement officers to deliver the original 17-lesson D.A.R.E. curriculum resulted in the rapid and widespread adoption of D.A.R.E. throughout the country and around the world over the next ten years.

With the widespread demand for drug prevention in schools, D.A.R.E. provided a local, well-respected resource/supply (local D.A.R.E. officers) to meet the demand.

The demand for D.A.R.E. training and program implementation resulted in the creation of D.A.R.E.’s national/international substance abuse prevention dissemination infrastructure, which remains to this day a state-of-the-art standard for other prevention endeavors to emulate.

In 1984, D.A.R.E. created and implemented a middle-school curriculum. In 1989, D.A.R.E. introduced a high school curriculum.

Recognizing the strong national demand for the program, D.A.R.E. America is founded in 1989 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to oversee curriculum and other program development, facilitate program expansion, program quality control and accountability, and serve as a fundraising vehicle to support its activities.


In the 1990’s, prevention science (scientific study/evaluation of prevention curricula) emerged as a specific academic/research component of the drug abuse research field. D.A.R.E. established a Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) composed of distinguished experts in the drug abuse field and chaired by Herbert Kleber, MD (Columbia University) who previously served as the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Drug Policy.

Partly because of available funding, researchers “independent” of D.A.R.E. conducted evaluation studies of the “original” 17-lesson D.A.R.E. elementary curriculum and concluded the program had minimal long-term influence on drug use. A number of researchers developed and marketed their own prevention curricula. Virtually all of the other prevention curricula were not then and have not since then been subjected to “independent” evaluations.

2000 - 2007

In authorizing legislation for the Departments of Education and Justice, Congress instructed the departments to convene meeting(s) of D.A.R.E. supporters and critics.

Two meetings occurred under the leadership of William Modzeleski, Executive Director of the National Commission of Drug Free Schools, and Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General, Department of Justice. An additional meeting, convened by Drs. Herbert Kleber and Richard Clayton, occurred at the offices of the Vera Institute of Justice in New York City involving several drug prevention experts and a representative from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

In February 2001, RWJF invited a research team led by Dr. Zili Sloboda of the Institute for Health and Social Policy, University of Akron, and former Director of Division of Epidemiology, Prevention and Services Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA]), to create a state-of-the-art prevention curriculum to be delivered by D.A.R.E. officers, and to evaluate it.

The D.A.R.E. Scientific Advisory Board provided an oversight role of that project. As part of its oversight responsibility, D.A.R.E. expanded its Scientific Advisory Board to include additional specific areas of research expertise.

Drs. Richard Clayton (University of Kentucky) and Chris Ringwalt (Research Triangle Institute), two independent researchers who evaluated the original 17-lesson D.A.R.E. curriculum, were invited to join D.A.R.E.’S Scientific Advisory Board.

The project’s resulting curriculum, Take Charge of Your Life, was developed and delivered as part of a large randomized trial study and evaluated through a study involving over 17,000 7th/9th grade students.

The study evaluating Take Charge of Your Life, one of the largest such studies ever attempted, was undertaken as three of the cities in the study were negatively impacted by epic disastrous events. As the school semester for September 2001, the first year of the evaluation, was about to commence, New York City, one of five sites involved in the evaluation, was subjected to the largest terrorist attack experienced on U.S. soil. Newark, NJ, was hastily brought in as a substitute site for New York. Four years into the seven year study, New Orleans and Houston, were dramatically impacted by Hurricane Katrina, displacing a large number of study participants, thereby interfering with successful longitudinal follow-up. Hurricane Katrina also resulted in significant migration from New Orleans to Houston further complicating and compromising successful longitudinal follow-up.

While the Take Charge of Your Life curriculum was not found to have lasting behavioral outcomes, the study concluded that well-trained law enforcement officers can effectively deliver a drug prevention curriculum in a school setting. The study found that students perceive law enforcement officers as credible deliverers of substance abuse prevention curricula.

In the continuing pursuit of identifying and implementing a new D.A.R.E. curriculum, Dr. Chris Ringwalt and another curriculum consultant developed a curriculum that was tested in a high-risk area of Philadelphia. The pilot study did not show positive results.

2007 - Present

Frank Pegueros, President/CEO, D.A.R.E. America, initiated a process that identified nine (9) prospective drug prevention programs that might fit with D.A.R.E. and may be interested in collaborating on implementation.

D.A.R.E. senior staff applied rigorous criteria identified through an interactive process with the D.A.R.E. Scientific Advisory Board, as well as with D.A.R.E.’s parallel Education and Law Enforcement Advisory Boards to review each of the nine programs.

This process led to selection of the keepin’ it REAL (kiR) curricula. Those curricula were developed by prevention scientists at the Pennsylvania State University and Arizona State University with funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

D.A.R.E. America, Pennsylvania State University, and Drs. Michael Hecht and Michelle Miller-Day formed an alliance for D.A.R.E.’s adoption of the kiR curriculum.

Following its selection, D.A.R.E. and Drs. Hecht and Miller-Day initiated an intensive, extensive and lengthy process to, in essence, “D.A.R.E.ify” the curricula.

Concurrent with the adoption of the keepin’ it REAL curricula, a significant change occurred in the D.A.R.E. delivery methodology. The teaching style became interactive with an emphasis on facilitation, rather than a didactic presentation model. Instead of listening to a lecture, students spend most class time working in small cooperative learning groups, guided by the D.A.R.E. officer as they apply a decision-making model to develop their own unique ways of positively addressing high-risk situations in their lives.

In addition to Drs. Hecht and Miller-Day, the process included educators from D.A.R.E., law enforcement personnel with experience teaching previous D.A.R.E. curricula, representatives from the D.A.R.E. SAB and Education Advisory Boards, and select “outside” experts.

Products of collaborations are D.A.R.E./keepin’ it REAL middle-school and elementary school curricula, developmentally-specific materials for preK-2 and 3rd – 4th grade visitations from DARE officers, and three units for high school students (myPlaybook high school, REAL Messages, Celebrating Safety), and four enhancement lessons (prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse, internet safety, bullying, and role models).

The DARE/keepin’ it REAL middle-school curriculum was first delivered in 2008 while the DARE/keepin’ it REAL elementary curriculum was first delivered in 2013.

In 2016, D.A.R.E. America partnered with the University of North Carolina, Greensboro and REAL Prevention to develop a new high school curriculum. D.A.R.E.’s high school curricula program consists of three distinct modules that offer educators and law enforcement flexible and cost-effective options for providing students with relevant and timely information and tools to exercise responsible decision-making. The curricular components are independent, yet supportive of one another. The modules can be implemented individually, as companion pieces, or as a complete suite.

In 2017, the US Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency after Opioid overdoses reached a historic high. D.A.R.E. America had recognized the rapidly growing abuse of prescription drugs by students in the 2007 and had developed a series of lessons as part of an increased prevention effort.

In early 2018, D.A.R.E. America launched an intensive effort to update those lessons with particular focus on Opioid abuse prevention. In July 2018, D.A.R.E. released a new, 11 lesson K-12 Opioid & OTC/Rx Drug Abuse Prevention Curriculum, and trained more than 2,500 D.A.R.E. Officers over the next eighteen months to deliver it in their communities. This curriculum was delivered to over 250,000 students in the first eighteen months alone.

During the same time, use of a vaping product called JUUL was becoming prevalent among young people in America. Over the next year, youth vaping of all such products increased dramatically leading the FDA Commissioner and Surgeon General to call teen vaping an “epidemic.” In response, D.A.R.E. developed and released in 2019 Vaping Prevention enhancement lessons for Middle and High School students to address this growing concern. The lessons were delivered to more than 100,000 students in the first school year of use, just as alarm grew when acute lung injuries associated with vaping – known as EVALI – rose dramatically resulting in over 2,500 hospitalizations and 60 deaths reported.

Recognizing the rise in teen suicide, D.A.R.E. collaborated with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to adapt their program “More Than Sad” for delivery by D.A.R.E. Officers. This lesson teaches students to recognize the signs of depression in themselves and others, ask for help, and understand that treatment exists and is effective.

In early 2020, COVID-19 affected D.A.R.E. Officers’ ability to deliver the program face-to-face in classrooms, as schools across the country and world closed and remote instruction was implemented in response to the pandemic. Recognizing this unparalleled crisis, D.A.R.E. America rebranded its electronic version of the printed student elementary workbook as D.A.R.E. Remote, and expanded it to include both the Elementary and Middle School keepin’ it REAL workbooks. The new version enabled D.A.R.E. Officers to quickly adapt to a remote, live delivery of the D.A.R.E. program to tens of thousands of students while also staying in contact with them during a challenging time in their lives.