Drug education doesn’t work well, here’s part of the solution

Last year I wrote a paper (“A Flawed Solution, a Persistent Problem”) about a concrete solution to the War on Drugs, painting it as a failed solution to a legitimate problem, that we need to solve in a better, more humane way. Beyond the policy mechanics is the education schools and parents provide to kids about drug addiction and safety.

Writing for Vox, German Lopez states that current drug education for teens is bad, and has been bad for a long time. Put simply, D.A.R.E is scaremongering pseudoscience, and I’ve never personally met a person in my age cohort that took it the slightest bit seriously. With marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado, and several other states on the same path, we are moving from a paradigm where adult pot use was common, to now one where it is also accepted and part of above-the-board society. Drug policy is finally liberalizing, and the end result for anti-drug groups is pretty difficult. If whole states are making pot legal, why are government-funded groups like D.A.R.E say that the drug is dangerous and has all sorts of serious short and long-term effects?

What teen education groups have long done is discredit themselves on soft drugs, so anything they say about hard drugs like cocaine and heroin is treated with suspicion. If you’re willing to lie and say, as some groups have, that pot can lead to insanity, why would already skeptical teens believe all the (totally true) dangers of heroin?

Education should mirror the policy ideas I suggest. The main thing is a strategic retreat from pot education, particularly any education that isn’t rooted in hard science and can reconcile with the teens, who sometime smoke it and definitely know at least a couple people who do. Programs should deal with the consequences of drug use, but also drug policy. With so many non-violent drug offenders in prison, things need to move beyond the simple scare warning (“Do you want to end up in prison?”) but acknowledge that demonization of drug use impacts families and may drive addicts away from treatment.

Some of the more over-the-top teen ed programs really remind me of bible-thumping evangelical education. Both talk about the immense punishment one will receive for certain acts, often minor ones that outsiders wouldn’t view as a big deal. The thing is that even if teens are super-smart themselves, social media and the Internet allow for a counter-narrative to form, coming from people that teens may trust more than an anti-drug teacher.

Drug abuse is a problem, but the drug trafficking born of making drugs illegal has killed tens of thousands. Drug ed, and public policy, should focus on personal cost. A ironclad anti-drug policy may seem like a way to a better society, but the raping and murdering of Mexican women by the hundreds comes from criminalizing so many drugs. Drugs kill people, but making drugs illegal kill more. The people who die from drugs still die under the War, but the collateral damage of trafficking and distributing drugs is massive.