How DARE Runs Amid Pot Legalization, Opioid Wave

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The Washington Post went to West Bridgewater, Ma. to find out what it is like to be a DARE instructor after a state legalized recreational marijuana. Officer Ken Thaxter tells students of pot’s short-term effects, like difficulty concentrating, trouble solving problems, and loss of coordination and motor skills. The police-run program on “Drug Abuse Resistance Education” was seemingly everywhere in the 1980s and ’90s. Then studies showed that it did nothing to stop kids from doing drugs. In the 2000s, states slashed it from their budgets. It revamped its curriculum to focus less on drugs and more on smart decision-making.

It’s a shadow of its former self. In Massachusetts, which once had 800 DARE officers, 140 remain, including the one now asking his students: “Who likes roller coasters?” “You get up to the top, right before you go over the edge, that’s your body creating endorphins,” Thaxter said. “If you are using drugs to create endorphins, rather than doing it naturally, it’s very dangerous.” He wasn’t going to persuade kids never to smoke weed, but there was a far bigger drug problem outside these walls that he was desperate to do something about: the heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil that killed 1,997 people in Massachusetts last year. Overdoses had become an expected part of Thaxter’s shifts as a patrol officer. Dominic DiNatale, current head of Massachusetts DARE, says that his state has been working to introduce marijuana retail sales and combat the opioid epidemic all at once. Some districts that had eliminated their DARE programs contacted him, asking what it would take to get it back. With no state funding, he says, it frequently requires a local police department, which may already be low on resources, to be willing to forgo a patrol officer.

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