"The curriculum is geared toward fifth-grade students, the exiting grade in elementary school," said Lt. John Morgan with the Bartow County Sheriff's Office, adding this year D.A.R.E. is making a presence in the middle schools. "Some of the things we talk about are the gateway drugs, which are tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.
"We also go into other things, if time permits, such as inhalants, cocaine and methamphetamine. A lot of times kids ask us about those [substances] even though they aren't in the curriculum."
Morgan and three other D.A.R.E. officers circulate throughout the city and county elementary schools, delivering a curriculum that teaches students the skills needed to resist drugs; gangs and violence with an emphasis on self-esteem; communication skills; consequences of drug abuse; decision making; conflict resolution; and positive alternatives to substance abuse. On Wednesday, fifth-graders at White Elementary School graduated from the D.A.R.E. program in front of faculty and family.
"Since I have been in the D.A.R.E. program, I have a lot to look forward to later on in life, and now I know how to say no thanks to the D.A.R.E. program," WES student Alexis Billue said.
Morgan said the biggest influence on whether a student chooses to experiment with drugs comes from their friends.
"We also touch on peer pressure, choosing good friends and having a support system," Morgan said. "... In one of our lessons we have the ways to say no, and [the students] go one-on-one and what we do is we teach them how to talk to another person if they try to offer [the student] drugs what they need to do to say no."
He said the student being pressured sees two consequences during the exercise -- one being that the student pushing for drug use responds positively to the rejection and, in the other, continues to persist and reacts negatively in the situation. This exercise helps students like Kendall Arnold prepare for the various pressures he'll face during school.
"I loved [D.A.R.E.]. I always feel confident and I feel better about middle school," Arnold said.
Morgan said although fifth-grade students are young, some already are trying drugs.
"Kids are experimenting with drugs every day," Morgan said. "A lot of it comes from peer pressure and wanting to fit in with other people, and we feel if we give them the information, it will probably help us help them."
He said while there is a problem with methamphetamine use in older teens and adults, there hasn't been much issue in the middle schools. However, there are other substances that students are picking up.
"A lot of kids are experimenting with this synthetic marijuana now, thinking they'll fit in, not knowing the synthetic marijuana can cause them to have seizures," Morgan said. "Prescription drugs are a big problem with our young people and a lot of them bring [prescription drugs] to school and say, 'Hey, these will make you feel good. My parents use them and [the drugs] make them feel good. So why don't you try it?'"
He said it is not only the students who need to be educated about drug use in order to avoid the potential for abuse.
"A lot of times parents don't know anything about [drugs] because they don't take the time to learn about it, and if we can get the parents involved with the students and their education about learning about drugs, things would be a whole lot better for us, I believe," Morgan said.
The 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, provided the following statistics regarding drug use in middle-school-age and older students.
* In 2008, an estimated 20.1 million Americans aged 12 or older were current (past month) illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug during the month prior to the survey interview. This estimate represents 8.0 percent of the population aged 12 years old or older. Illicit drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription-type psychotherapeutics used nonmedically.
* The rate of current illicit drug use among persons aged 12 or older in 2008 (8.0 percent) was the same as the rate in 2007 (8.0 percent).
* Marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug (15.2 million past month users). Among persons aged 12 or older, the rate of past month marijuana use in 2008 (6.1 percent) was similar to the rate in 2007 (5.8 percent).
* In 2008, there were 1.9 million current cocaine users aged 12 or older, comprising 0.7 percent of the population. These estimates were similar to the number and rate in 2007 (2.1 million or 0.8 percent), but lower than the estimates in 2006 (2.4 million or 1.0 percent).
* Hallucinogens were used in the past month by 1.1 million persons (0.4 percent) aged 12 or older in 2008, including 555,000 (0.2 percent) who had used Ecstasy. These estimates were similar to the corresponding estimates for 2007.
* There were 6.2 million (2.5 percent) persons aged 12 or older who used prescription-type psychotherapeutic drugs nonmedically in the past month. These estimates were lower than in 2007 (6.9 million or 2.8 percent).
* The number of past month methamphetamine users decreased by over half between 2006 and 2008. The numbers were 731,000 in 2006, 529,000 in 2007, and 314,000 in 2008.
* Among youths aged 12 to 17, the current illicit drug use rate remained stable from 2007 (9.5 percent) to 2008 (9.3 percent). Between 2002 and 2008, youth rates declined significantly for illicit drugs in general (from 11.6 to 9.3 percent) and for marijuana (8.2 to 6.7 percent), cocaine (0.6 to 0.4 percent), prescription-type drugs used nonmedically (4.0 to 2.9 percent), pain relievers (3.2 to 2.3 percent), stimulants (0.8 to 0.5 percent) and methamphetamine (0.3 to 0.1 percent).