Some questions about the implementation of D.A.R.E. in Northfield

Darelogo D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) “… is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches children from kindergarten through 12th grade how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug and violence-free lives.”

In City Administrator Al Roder’s weekly memo for Dec. 17-21:

On 12-14-2007 Northfield Police Department interviewed police officers that had expressed an interest of becoming DARE instructors. Northfield Schools and Northfield Police Department Captains conducted the interviews. Northfield Police Department Officers Blaine Anderson and Paul Haider were selected. The officers will attend state sponsored training from January 7 until January 18, 2008. Northfield Police Department officers will run the first ever DARE program in the Northfield school district starting in February 2008. This program has been put together with cooperation from Northfield Schools and Northfield Police Department.

In the Feb. 15 Nfld News, Megan Proft has an article titled DARE comes to Sibley School. And in the Feb. 20 Nfld News editorial titled DARE in schools a must for Northfield:

Numerous studies have been done on the program since its inception in 1983 in urban Los Angeles. The most well-known of these conclude two things: that DARE doesn’t do much to keep kids away from drugs and alcohol, and that it helps form a bond between students and law enforcement. But eight months after the city was rocked by the news of possible drug use problems, Northfield can scarcely afford to do nothing.

I take issue with the last sentence of the editorial.

“…possible drug use problems”? I say our town definitely has drug abuse problems.

“…afford to do nothing”? Much has been done since the heroin story broke last summer.

But my bigger questions are:

  1. Given the questions about the effectiveness of DARE (see the section in the Wikipedia entry on DARE re: the critical view), should our policy makers (the Northfield School Board and the Northfield City Council) be more involved in deciding whether the time is right for DARE here in Northfield? I can find nothing in the council or school board minutes where the issue has been discussed.
  2. Should the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Alcohol & Drug Use, the HCI, the Union of Youth, and the Rice County Chemical Health Coalition be involved in determining whether DARE is right for Northfield?

My uninformed answer to both questions is ‘yes.’ But I’m open to being influenced.

170 thoughts on “Some questions about the implementation of D.A.R.E. in Northfield”

  1. David L.,
    I’m not suggesting that the high school survey be THE benchmark, I’m just noting that having a consistent survey, using a consistent survey group (though the specific students change over time) and having a pretty consistent margin of error (kids exaggerate in pretty predictable ways) creates one good benchmark. The state keeps doing it, not because each survey is highly accurate but because over time it lets us spot trends.
    It’s the same with other sources of information. We will never know each teen who takes a drink or pops a pill, but using measurements of those who drop out, those who seek inpatient treatment, those who use local outpatient services, those who are arrested for DUI, possession and other charges, all of those put together create a baseline against which we can spot changes — both good and bad.
    Hazeldon, which has more experience than most, has measurements it uses to monitor the situation in Ramsey and Hennepin counties, two places with highly mobile and hard to track populations. I just don’t see why this is so freaking hard here.

  2. Just a reminder…the media loves anniversary stories, so come July they will be swarming all over the place. I’m wondering how the national audience will react when we say that we still don’t know whether the chief was a visionary or a blind fool, we have no idea whether things are better or worse or why, but some of us feel better and some of us don’t.

  3. David L: I think your kids assessment of the veracity of the report is pretty good and it agrees with what most professionals think, as i recall from several conversations on this over the years.
    When you take into consideration the under-reporting and over-reporting, it averages out to be fairly accurate.

    Let’s just get all the best programs in place that we can, that support users and their families, and be oh, so very glad, when and if they’re not as heavily used.

    But let’s also get the hospital to play a bigger role…………

  4. David L.,
    I’m about at the end of my interest in this discussion, although I think the one-year-after stories will be pretty good reading, if I know my journalistic colleagues.
    The student survey report is only one part of the issue because many of the “young people” who are (or aren’t) using aren’t in school. The chief’s definition was a 10-year demographic of about 3,000 people ages 15-25 — the high school link was added by others, including the misleading original Locally Grown headline, which was changed later. So 250 users out of 3,000 people is different from 250 in the high school.
    Also, if the chief was right and there was a spike in use due to a specific influx of the drug (like a spike in the flu or a case of tainted hamburger causing e-coli infections), it could have happened after the survey was given.
    I’m not defending the chief or challenging his numbers. Frankly, I am apalled that a town with this many clergy, teachers, social workers, college academics, police officers and busybodies, can’t determine any reliable data on such a small subset of the population — a subset which has stable home addresses, family situations, school options and church affiliations and very limited options for counseling and AA or NA meetings and inpatient treatment. For crying out loud, these kids must be completely outnumbered and we’re still debating how many there are or whether we can ever get “good” numbers.
    We can’t get perfect numbers on exactly how many eagles there are in the wild, but we have numbers good enough to tell us when they become endangered and when they recover. We can’t know precisely how much snow is falling today, but we’ve got some accepted measurements.
    Enough analogies, enough discussion. Count or don’t, spend money wisely or foolishly, argue til the cows come home, and the numbers will be what the numbers always are. A certain small percentage of people involved in any behavior — drinking, gambling, smoking, shopping, playing online games, people having sex — will develop a dependance or addiction. Some will continue the behavior in moderation and others never will develop more than casual behavior patterns. Teens, whose brains are more fragile, are more likely to develop problems.
    (Circumstances also play a role in addiction and abuse. For example, a study of Vietnam vets found that of all those who reported being addicted to heroin while in country, only 7 percent remained addicted when they returned home. It’s the same principle that explains drunken college students graduating and going on with their lives and drug-addled boomers becoming judgmental parents.)
    So the adults who warned us about Satanic cults, and meth and heroin and chewing tobacco and masturbation and marijuana and moonshine and having sex on the first date are right — to a point.
    The only real point about teens is the same one we need to make about adults. We all need people close to us who can see when our behavior begins slipping and intervene before we run into a ditch and hurt ourselves or run across the center line and hurt others.

  5. Griff’s original questions went to who should be the ultimate policy-makers on drug issues. Let me suggest that never again should it be the police chief.

  6. Regarding the survey data reported by the NN, I have a number of concerns:

    • As David L said (#150) there is likely a bias toward reporting excess activity in 9th grade and underreporting in 12th grade.
    • There is also a missing data problem. There are two parts to this. First, only kids in class with their age group only were given the survey (at least that’s my understanding based on this article). In 9th grade that’s ok, since there are probably numerous 9th-grade-only courses. In 12th grade, it may be more problematic. In my high school, the only 12th-grade-only courses were advanced topic courses; kids who were somewhat behind would not have been in such courses. Is that also true in NHS, or is my info hopelessly out of date?
    • The second part of the missing data problem is what Jane Moline discussed in #142; namely, kids with problems may be dropping out (or “transferred”) before 12th grade. They would not then be available to take the survey, so personal use of drugs/alcohol will always be somewhat underreported.
    • David L (#150) commented that he was told the margin of error was 10% to 20%. That’s a misleading report by whoever originally made the statement:
      • The margin of error in any survey depends on the percentage answering “yes” vs. “no” for each question, so it really varies quite a bit by question.
      • More importantly, in this case Northfield High School represents the entire population, so talking about a margin of error is not terribly useful (margin of error is used to describe how far off the sample may be in describing the population, so when the whole population is sampled margin of error isn’t as useful as the percentages reported). The issues of bias discussed above are far more important.

    Fortunately, the survey itself seems to have been designed to address the concerns I just described. The NN reported only the results of those questions asking directly what the kids reported using. In the original survey, these were worded as things like “During the last 30 days, on how many days did you drink one or more drinks of an alcoholic beverage?” However, the survey also included several useful questions which were not reported by the NN. I’ve pulled these with their response percentages from the 2007 report for Rice County as a whole, available at http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/chs/mss/countytables/. (For simplicity, I’ll use “6M” etc to denote 6th grade males, etc.)

    1. “Student use of alcohol or drugs is a problem at this school” Percent responding “Strongly Agree” or “Agree”:
      • 6M 18%, 6F 17%
      • 9M 64%, 9F 72%
      • 12M 70%, 12F 80%
    2. “Illegal gang activity is a problem at this school” Percent responding “Strongly Agree” or “Agree”:
      • 6M 14%, 6F 16%
      • 9M 26%, 9F 22%
      • 12M 27%, 12F 17%
    3. “During the last 12 months, has anyone offered, sold, or given you an illegal drug on school property?” Percent responding “Yes”:
      • 6M 1%, 6F 2%
      • 9M 24%, 9F 15%
      • 12M 25%, 12F 6%
    4. “Has alcohol use by any family member repeatedly caused family, health, job, or legal problems?” Percent responding “Yes”:
      • 6M 9%, 6F 8%
      • 9M 12%, 9F 17%
      • 12M 12%, 12F 16%
    5. “Has drug use by any family member repeatedly caused family, health, job, or legal problems?” Percent responding “Yes”:
      • 6M 6%, 6F 3%
      • 9M 10%, 9F 13%
      • 12M 7%, 12F 9%

    As I mentioned before, these numbers are for all of Rice County, not just Northfield. However, the questions are of great interest to me. Questions 1 and 2 are clearly designed to overcome two problems: missing data, and concern about telling the truth about one’s own activity; both are likely more reliable in describing problems at the school than the direct questions about students’ own usage (though survey data will never be 100% accurate). Questions 3-5 are specific areas of concern: in 3, we see whether drugs are on campus; in 4 and 5 we see whether there is a potential link to problems within the family unit.



    It would be extremely helpful to see these numbers for Northfield.

  7. I have been very critical of the DARE program in its techniques and effectiveness, as related to preventing drug use.

    But I do see one positive aspect to it if it familiarizes young people to our police force, and the comfort level it establishes with a uniformed officer. This is a good thing. Uniforms and a big gun on the hip can be intimidating. So can a verbal attitude that exudes power.

    So a local officer, being a friendly and congenial partner in exploring a subject can be a very positive thing for the kids participating in the relationship.

    Why couldn’t this relationship be established just on a community basis, without being linked to any other program?

  8. It’s been 5 weeks since we’ve argued about drugs. I miss it so! In today’s Nfld News: County sheriff digging further into drug abuse.

    In the last two and a half years, by Sheriff Richard Cook’s count, eight young Northfield and Lonsdale residents have overdosed on heroin and OxyContin. In five of those cases, Cook said, the victims, between 18 and 25, died. All but one of the deaths occurred in the last 10 months.

    The newly formed Rice County Drug Task Force is only beginning to get a handle on the scope of the problem, Cook said. Last year, Rice County law enforcement agencies withdrew from a five-county group to focus on drug use in this county. While methamphetamine and crack/cocaine use continues to be an issue, the sheriff said, narcotics use is significant and concentrated in the northern portion of the county.

  9. Griff: I’m glad the Northfield News has finally reported on this, even if only in this oblique way. Of the five deaths mentioned, the News hasn’t so far managed to report a single one as drug related, which shouldn’t have been too hard, even for them. I’m wondering if they even tried. But in all fairness, their reporting style seems to resemble that of a company newsletter more than a real newspaper, so it’s probably news that just didn’t fit.

    I’m guessing Sheriff Cook’s numbers include only deaths occurring in Rice County, and only those due to overdose (but probably including asphyxiation), so there may be a couple that were left out. As a purely hypothetical example, a Northfielder crashing a car eleven or twelve miles north of town would show up in some other county’s statistics.

  10. Scott, I’ve tried to get toxicology reports from county coroners but they won’t release them with the written consent of the family. I guess this applies to deaths where the deceased did not commit a crime involving others.

    So a reporter would have to gain the trust of family members to do a story about this.

  11. Griff: Gaining the trust of family members and encouraging them to tell their stories would be the best way, and it would probably lead to fewer hurt feelings. It may be worth a try. But families and friends of the recently deceased are undoubtedly under enormous pressure from business associates, religious leaders, and other leading citizens to keep quiet, especially in matters that would shed light on the structure of the local drug trade. And for people who have lost children or siblings, it’s understandable that at such a terrible time they may not be ready to find their inner hero, come forward, and fight the system.

    With five, or five plus, deaths to account for, though, it seems as if some sources must be available. Anyone close to the families probably knows their stories and could be encouraged to speak, even if anonymously. Ignoring the problem doesn’t seem to have worked so far, unless a half dozen deaths a year are to be considered an acceptable cost of doing business.

  12. One of the overriding problems with education of our youth in this country is that we start too late. As an art teacher I learned that young children can learn and do a lot more than the schedule allows for on a daily basis. Parents should start when the child is first aware of their surroundings. Some lessons can focus on what is too much vs what is not enough.

    Parents lives are an example, all experience start here and the experiences are the great teachers.

    Certainly one of the first lessons to learn is that anything in excess can hurt a human being. Too much sun, too much rain, too much wind, too much food, too much sitting, too much running, and so on.

    The next lesson should show what happens when we get or do too much of something. Exact descriptions of life once the effects have taken hold upon the one who has done too much should be shown in truth, in fact, and not always pointing to the worst case scenario, as that is what leads to the mistrust of authority.

    I guess what I am saying is that there is no public solution to this if the parents refuse to set proper examples and set limits and are around enough to care and watch over their children. The society must
    accommodate this for people so that they can work from home, or
    work less hours and be more available for their first jobs, that of parenthood.

  13. 5 ODs in one year seems like a public health or Center for Disease Control issue in addition to law enforcement.

  14. Griff, re your posts #164 and #168: I’m wondering if another avenue might be available for getting the toxicology reports, at least for a couple of the recent deaths. It’s my understanding that, in a couple of cases, excessive drinking in Northfield bars was involved. If someone were to sue the establishments for overserving, wouldn’t they be entitled to the reports (so they could, hypothetically, say that it wasn’t the alcohol, but the OC, or the heroin, or whatever, that caused the death). In the links you posted, it was the families that sued, but other parties probably could sue as well, such as friends or perhaps even a chapter of MADD or some such organization. Anything that might help to break through the conspiracy of silence and denial is worth a try.

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