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A York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office cruiser parked outside the Sheriff’s Office in York County. (File Photo Steve Roberts Jr).

York-Poquoson Sheriff Danny Diggs and York County School Division Superintendent Victor Shandor seek to end the opioid crisis by teaching students about the harmful prescription medications.

In a joint statement released Oct. 11, the pair say schools in York County already have a curriculum to get that information to students before they feel tempted to abuse drugs.

“The tools already exist to reduce this clear threat to our community and beyond,” the statement reads. “For the past 35 years, D.A.R.E. has been taught in schools by uniformed law enforcement officers resulting in the education … of millions of elementary, middle, and high school students. Now D.A.R.E.’s curricula include Opioid and Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention lessons — so that we can stop the crisis from taking hold at the source: in schools and homes.”

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education program has operated in York County schools for 32 years, according to the statement. Tens of thousands of York County students have been taught not to abuse drugs through the program.

The program’s anti-opioid abuse curriculum was developed in part by Pennsylvania State University, Arizona State University, University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the statement said.

“A great deal of attention has been paid to the hazards that children in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms in York County, throughout Virginia, and across the country today face, including bullying and internet safety, not to mention the fear of school violence,” the statement said. “We may not be able to prevent all of these problems, but there’s no reason not to do what’s been shown to work to prevent drug use, addiction and related deaths.”

The opioid crisis doesn’t affect one part of society alone, Diggs said.

“I don’t know hardly anybody who hasn’t been touched by this,” Diggs said. “This is certainly not the heroin of the 70s and 80s. This reaches across all socioeconomic strata.”

Diggs said he’s proud students are learning the life skills taught by the D.A.R.E. program such as self-confidence, standing up for themselves and how to prevent bullying.

Every graduating class in the York County School Division has a D.A.R.E. program graduation too, Diggs said.

“When I go to those graduations I meet older brothers and sisters and sometimes parents who have been through the D.A.R.E program,” Diggs said. “They remember the D.A.R.E. program. They’re happy it’s in place today. They’re glad that their kids are being exposed to it.

However, in the years since its initial inception, the D.A.R.E. program has faced criticism that it is ineffective and simply makes parents feel better than they should about their children and drug safety.

In 1999, children educated by D.A.R.E. were just as likely to abuse drugs as those who didn’t, according to an archived report in the Boston Globe.

In 2013, a paper published by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania criticized the program.

Despite D.A.R.E.’s popularity, it showed virtually no sign of actually working, or being evidenced based,” Theodore Caputi wrote. “In fact, several studies have shown that the original D.A.R.E. program was ineffective, and in some cases, counterproductive.”

To be sure, no anti-drug abuse program is a silver bullet.

“You can’t tell how successful you are at preventing things,” Diggs said. “You can only measure things that happen. You can’t measure things that don’t happen.”

Diggs hope is that the revitalized anti-opioid and anti-bullying program gives students the self-confidence and moral compass to be respectful to others and not use drugs.

“They teach (students) about how to deal with peer pressure, how to make good decisions, how your actions and decisions can affect others, it’s got an anti-bullying component,” Diggs said. “It’s just not drugs anymore.”

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