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Drug education: saving America's youths.

As America grapples with the increasing use of drugs among its young people, police leaders throughout the country seek effective solutions to the problem. However, when considering specific programs, these leaders must also consider their impact. They must find programs that youths, as well as adults, accept and support.

When members of the Essex County, Virginia, Sheriff's Office considered ways to reduce drug use in their county, they decided to build on a program already in existence in most States--the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) Program. Moreover, the sheriff's office expanded the program to begin the drug education process in kindergarten and continue it through the 12th grade.

Two full-time, uniformed deputy sheriffs spend the first semester of the school year teaching kindergarten through 7th grade students and the second semester of the school year teaching 8th through 12th grade students. Funds for the program come from both the sheriff's office budget and a Federal grant.


The goals of Essex County's drug education program are to teach students at an early age how to recognize and resist peer pressure to use drugs and to help them understand that most individuals do not use drugs. Drug education instructors also attempt to impress upon the students that citizens and law enforcement agencies must work together to eliminate the drug problem. Instructors reinforce these two recurring themes throughout the students' elementary and high school years.

The program concentrates on five general topics. Students learn about drug demand reduction, drugs and the law, how to communicate choices assertively, how to manage stress without using drugs, and how drugs and violence mix. Instructors begin at a very simple, general level with the younger students and progress to more complex material with students in the higher grades. For example, instructors may discuss drug-use symptoms in very general terms with younger students, telling them that drug use makes individuals sick. With the older students, they can be more graphic in their explanations of how drug use ruins the health and lives of those who choose to indulge.

Drug Demand Reduction

After years of attempting to reduce the supply of illegal drugs, criminal justice leaders now believe that the drug problem must be attacked by reducing the demand for the drugs as well. Drug education instructors approach this problem by familiarizing students with the risks associated with drug use. They then ask the students to describe the effects drugs have on their peers and how this drug use may affect their neighborhoods and community.

Instructors also discuss drugs in connection with crime rates, violence, medical emergencies, and suicide rates. They attempt to bring the problem closer to home by discussing with the students incidents involving either themselves or family members that may have occurred as a result of an individual's drug use. For example, the homes of students may have been burglarized by someone who needed money to buy drugs.

In addition, instructors discuss the types of peer pressure young people may encounter in connection with drugs. Drug dealers attempt to coerce students to use drugs by exerting different types of pressure--teasing or tempting. Preparing students for this possibility and giving them ways to avoid yielding to negative pressures help to prepare them to just say "No."

Drugs and the Law

Through this segment of the program, students gain insight into the criminal justice system so that they can better understand how it works. The younger students can discuss areas as simple as how buying or selling drugs can get them in trouble, while the older students discuss the laws more specifically. For example, they may discuss why society needs such laws, the penalties for violating the law, and the differences between misdemeanor violations and felonies. Instructors also explain under what circumstances juveniles can be tried as adults, the investigation and arrest procedures, and how an arrest record on drug charges can affect students in the future.

Communicating Choices

Another area of emphasis in the Essex County program is how students can assertively communicate their choices and feelings about drug use to their peers. Instructors suggest certain courses of action for students being pressured to engage in drug activity. They advise students to change the subject, walk away, ignore the person who approaches them, or simply say "No."

Students also learn to react assertively to drug dealers and to design their actions to let them know that the presence of drug dealers is unwanted. By acting out different scenarios, students learn how to deal with various situations.

Managing Stress

This vital segment of the program allows students to discuss the stress they feel in their lives and offers positive ways to deal with this stress. Instructors encourage the young people to manage this stress through constructive activities or by simply talking their problems over with another person. The instructors' goal is to convince students that they can deal with stress in positive, effective ways--they need never resort to drugs.

Drugs and Violence

The final section of the drug program deals with how the illegal use of drugs contributes to the increase in violence among young people. During this segment, instructors help students develop ways in which they can decrease drug-related violence. They also educate the students on the possible tactics of drug dealers.

For example, drug dealers sometimes attempt to intimidate students into using drugs by force or the threat of force. This intimidation may take the form of verbal, mental, or physical abuse.

Instructors warn that drug use can also cause the users to hurt either themselves or others. As instructors make clear, drug use often contributes to motor vehicle accidents, suicides, and murders.


The key to reducing drug abuse may lie in the education of young people. Clearly, those students who receive drug education are better prepared for the temptations they may confront in later years.

An added benefit to drug education given by police officers is the rapport built between law enforcement and the youth in the community. Drug education instructors sometimes become confidants to the students and often render the moral support youths need when trying to avoid drugs.

Citizens and law enforcement agencies must come together to form a united front against the use of drugs. Unless this happens quickly, America may lose a generation to drugs.

Sheriff Davis heads the Essex County, Virginia, Sheriff's Office.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Federal Bureau of Investigation
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Author:Davis, Damon
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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