Tag Archives: drug abuse

What Going Through The D.A.R.E Program Taught Me (And What It Failed To Teach Me)

Was D.A.R.E. Effective? | Live Science

Don’t do drugs. They’re bad for you.

We’ve been telling that to kids for decades. Many people reading this probably remember hearing it as well when they were kids. They heard it at school, form parents, from churches, and from any number of anti-drug PSAs. “South Park” has even done entire episodes about it.

The message is out there.

It’s not exactly ambiguous.

Drugs are bad and you shouldn’t do drugs. We get it. It’s so belabored at this point that it might as well be background noise.

However, it’s for that very reason that we should scrutinize that message. I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but despite all those anti-drug ads and programs, drug abuse is still a big problem. People are still doing illicit drugs and thousands still die from it.

Why is that?

Did these people not hear the same anti-drug messages that we’ve all been hearing for years?

It’s very likely they did. It just didn’t have any effect on them. That raises plenty of other questions. Before I even try asking those, I’d like to share a brief personal story about my experience with these anti-drug programs. Once I do, I hope it reveals why their impact is so muted.

When I was in grade school, the now-infamous Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program, better known as DARE, was in full-swing. All over the country, various schools and community programs would take time out of their schedules to hold these DARE-sponsored events. Those events were meant to be informative, but they always came back to just telling kids not to do drugs.

I was in the third grade when I first went through it. I distinctly remember only caring about it because it meant an entire afternoon had been cleared of other schoolwork. That’s how most of my friends at the time thought of it, too.

The program itself wasn’t that elaborate. We just had two men, a DARE spokesman and a police officer, sit down in front of our class to talk about drugs. I don’t recall any discussions about addiction or why people do drugs in the first place. Almost everything revolved around identifying certain drugs and learning to say no to them.

Some of those drugs, namely marijuana, are now legal in large parts of the country.

Curiously, the two drugs they never mentioned were alcohol and tobacco, which are far more likely to be abused.

I’m sure there was a reason for this and it had to do with these two drugs having billion-dollar companies behind them, but I digress.

What my third-grade brain took away from this was mixed, at best. Going through this program, these well-meaning adults painted a strange picture. They made it seem like there are these evil, nefarious drug dealers lurking in the shadows, looking to jump you on your way home from school, and shove illegal drugs in your face.

As a kid who read a lot of comics and watched plenty of cartoons, I found that to be very strange. Even crazed supervillains had some motivation behind it. These DARE people never talked about that. They didn’t mention things like drug cartels or gang violence. They just said these drug dealers are evil people who just want to get you addicted to drugs.

I honestly wanted to ask questions, but we never got a chance. This whole program was basically a lecture, not a discussion. The only questions they answered involved what certain drugs looked like and what they were often called.

Things got even more confusing in later years when I went through other parts of the program, which often included watching cheesy, poorly produced videos about the horrors of drugs. We would see pictures of ugly drug addicts and people getting arrested. At no point did we ever learn why these people were addicted or what happened to them after they got arrested. It was all so basic and bland.

Now, I understand keeping things basic for school kids, but it’s also worth noting that kids have bullshit detectors. They may not be as smart or as knowledgeable as an adult, but they’re not stupid. As a result, the way DARE framed drugs, drug dealers, and drug abuse never came off as something serious. It just felt like another case of adults talking down to kids again.

In that sense, I really didn’t get much out of DARE. If anything, it often left me confused.

I understood what drugs were, but the way DARE talked about them left little room for nuance. I still remembered at the time my parents often saying we had to stop off at the drug store on our way home. I knew what they meant. Some of us had prescriptions that needed filling. My parents explained it to me. I understood that, despite my age.

Now, here’s this program that constantly tells us drugs are bad and you should never do drugs, but never specifying what exactly they mean by “drugs.” Technically, aspirin and cough syrup are drugs. Were those just as dangerous? Again, I never got a chance to ask questions to clear that up.

Even as I reached middle school and high school, DARE programs didn’t change much. They just hammered away at that same message. Somebody from a police department would come to talk to a bunch of students and tell them not to do drugs. At this point, though, we were so numb to it that I remember some of my classmates falling asleep or doodling on their notepads the whole time.

To date, I’ve never met anyone who says the DARE program stopped them from doing drugs. That sentiment is mirrored in actual research done on the effectiveness of this program. For the most part, it didn’t work. In some cases, it actually had the reverse effect because it sent the message to kids that drug use was far more common than it actually was.

Then, there were the kids and teenagers who did drugs just to spite adults. Tell them not to do something and they’re just going to want to do it even more. I don’t know how common they were, but I know for certain those people exist.

Now, I’m an adult and looking back on it, I won’t say the DARE program was a total farce. I don’t doubt for a second that the intentions behind it were good. I know people who’ve had drug problems. Drug abuse is serious and it really does a lot of harm. However, there are far better ways of talking about it with kids and adults alike. None of them involve talking down to anyone.

I also feel like DARE was incomplete. It talked about drugs, but not the kinds of drugs people most often abuse, namely alcohol and tobacco. I didn’t learn about that until I was nearly in college. By then, most people already knew about it from other, non-DARE sources, so it was far too late to do anything about it.

It also felt like a missed opportunity because drug addiction has evolved since I was a kid. Today, abuse of prescription drugs is a far more serious issue than crack cocaine ever was. It’s killing people at a terrible rate and the way it manifests is nothing like what the DARE program described.

These days, DARE is largely seen as some cheesy relic from the late 80s and early 90s. That’s true to some extent, but having gone through it, I also think it’s worth looking beyond the dated references. It showed that we all realized there was a drug problem in this country. We needed to address that problem. We just went about it the wrong way with DARE.

I’m not saying we’ve fixed our approach to educating people about drug abuse. People are still using, abusing, and dying from drugs at an alarming rate. If DARE taught us anything it’s that there’s plenty of room for improvement. We just have to be willing to be serious, realistic, and understanding of this issue. If we aren’t, it’ll only get worse.

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Contemplating The Perfect Drug (And Whether We Could Handle It)

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Imagine, for a moment, you took the perfect drug. By that, I don’t mean the kind of drug that alleviates a headache, settles an upset stomach, or just makes it so you can function normally. I’m not talking about the kinds of drugs that gives us Captain America level superpowers either. I’m talking about the kind of drug that alters, enhances, or somehow changes the way you experience the world, physically and mentally.

It is a very subjective thought experiment, especially compared to some of the others I’ve explored. It might even be somewhat inappropriate to contemplate as parts of this world are dealing with a serious prescription drug problem and violence generated by the illegal drug trade. However, with the War on Drugs that Richard Nixon first declared being almost 50 years old, I think a little nuance on the issue is warranted.

In the same way we’ll never have a society of perfect monogamy, despite the best efforts of religion and government, we’ll never have a completely drug-free society. Human beings have been experimenting with drugs since ancient times in some form or another. Some major historical figures are known to have done drugs that would’ve gotten them thrown in jail today.

The choice of drug may vary, but so too does their reason for taking it. Some seek to alleviate pain. Some seek to enhance pleasure. Some are just bored and want to experience something new and profound. Whatever the reasons, the fact that so many different people from so many different eras, cultures, and situations seek drugs is revealing in and of itself.

In some respects, it reflects our inherent dissatisfaction with our current limits. We are, at the end of the day, at the mercy of our bodies, our brains, and the evolutionary mechanisms behind them. We get tired too easily. We can’t run as hard or as fast as we want. We can’t remember things that well or learn new things that efficiently. That doesn’t even begin to the limitations that effect our sex lives.

If anything, our own evolution gives us a powerful imperative to seek out powerful drugs. Our bodies and brains are programmed with two imperatives, survival and reproduction. If we can find a drug that enhances both, then we’re just improving our evolutionary standing in the world.

While I wouldn’t make that argument to a DEA agent, I think it’s worth contemplating the kind of drug that would do more to help us transcend our limitations than what we have now. Modern drugs, legal and illegal alike, do some amazing things. However, as anyone who has dealt with the side-effects of pain killers knows, there’s room for improvement.

Ignoring side-effects for a moment, think of the effects and benefits of the familiar drugs in existence right now. Look at what they do, how they do it, and why people pursue those effects in the first place. Then, imagine which of those effects you would want to include with the perfect drug.

Would it make you really astute and focused like Adderall or Ritalin?

Would it make you really relaxed and mellow like Xanex or Marijuana?

Would it make you really energized like cocaine or amphetamines?

Would it give you better stamina and endurance like anabolic steroids?

Would it give you mind-altering perceptions like LSD and DMT?

Would it make you extremely happy and empathetic like MDMA?

Chances are, you might want a little of everything. What you want might also depend on your situation. If you want a drug that’ll help you lose weight, you’ll probably want the effects of steroids and amphetamines. If you want to sleep better, you’ll want the effects of Xanex or weed. If you just want to be happy, sometimes all you need is a cigarette or a beer.

The perfect drug, by definition, would be able to grant you all or at least part of these experiences. Ideally, you wouldn’t need to a new prescription or a new dealer. The same drug would be capable of evoking those effects. It may require some tweaking of the dosage, mechanisms, or chemical processes, but it’s still capable of delivering.

It may sound like an impossible substance and to some extent, it is. However, it’s still only as impossible as our limitations and there are plenty of ongoing efforts to transcend those limitations through biotechnology, nanotechnology, and human/machine interface. I’ve mentioned a few of those efforts, including smart blood and neural implants. With future refinements, they’ll provide the catalyst for the perfect drug.

It may take the form of a special pill full of programmable biomatter. Maybe you want it to help you sleep. Maybe you want it to help you focus. Maybe you want it to help you make love to your spouse for five hours straight. With the right programming and the right application of biology, it can do that.

For some effects, maybe a pill isn’t enough. To have the kinds of effects that would give someone the kind of physical or mental enhancement they seek, it may be necessary to inject this programmable matter directly into the body via an IV drip. That might be cumbersome, but it allows for more direct delivery than a pill.

Even if it’s more effective, it still might not be ideal. Some of the most addictive drugs, like tobacco and alcohol, have a social element to them. People bond when they do them together and since humans are such a social species, that might be a necessary component of the perfect drug.

Perhaps instead of an injection or a pill, it can be ingested as a drink like tea and coffee. That will allow people to congregate and make it a social event at a bar or club. It can be part of a greater bonding experience, a group of people all sharing in the benefits of the perfect drug. It effectively complements every component of the human condition.

On the issue of side-effects, this is where the perfect drug would have to clash with flawed biology. On paper, a perfect drug would have no adverse side-effects. It wouldn’t have withdrawal symptoms, damage organs, or turn your urine blue, which does happen.

In the real, less-than-perfect world, every drug will have side-effects. Even if biotechnology and neural implants gives people superhuman durability on par with Wolverine from the X-men, it’s likely that such powerful experiences will result in equally powerful impacts, both mental and physical.

One of the most likely effects, which might still be the most damaging, involves what happens to people when they’re not on the perfect drug. Even if the drug causes no withdrawal symptoms and generally leaves the body intact, it still creates a discrepancy in experience.

There’s the state the person was in without the perfect drug. There’s the state the person was in when they took it. If the gap between the two is big enough, as would likely be the case for the perfect drug, then even an enhanced mind within an enhanced body would struggle to some extent.

It would be like going from taking a private jet across the ocean to riding a mule. One is just going to be so much richer and more intense than the other that it doesn’t matter how enhanced you or your brain are. You’re going to want that drug and you’re going to do whatever it takes to get it.

In a future where people can enhance their bodies, augment their brains, and rid themselves of disease, what else will drive them other than the inherent human desire to transcend more limitations? Those experiences and the methods to get them, either by a drug or some other means, might end up being the most valuable currency in the future.

For now, we’re stuck with a diverse array of drugs with a wide variety of effects. They all come with their own unique risks and their own blend of side-effects. With more and more drugs being developed, as well as refinements to existing drugs, people will continue using drugs and seeking them, even if it means clashing with the law.

We’re still a long way from a perfect drug like the one I just described, but it’s an idea with contemplating. It reveals why we seek drugs in the first place and what we’re looking for in using them, despite all the risks and side-effects.

We don’t just seek health, strength, or new experiences. We seek to improve and enhance our own condition. How we go about it and how well we handle it depends on a lot of factors. We might never create a truly perfect drug, but as medical science and human enhancement continue to evolve, we may still achieve its effects.

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