The Ronceverte Police Department now has a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) instructor.
Patrolman Brandon McMillion moved to the Ronceverte Police Department approximately two years ago from Raleigh County, noting “it’s a great department to work for.” During this time, he noticed the D.A.R.E. program was dormant for many West Virginia kids, including his own.
“I’ve got kids that go to school. When you start noticing that there’s no D.A.R.E. officer teaching this in West Virginia, you ask what happened?” McMillion said. “I found out that the main D.A.R.E. corporation decided it wasn’t effective. They shut it down and decided to revamp it and try to make it better.”
In the early 2000s, a series of studies found that the D.A.R.E. program was “ineffective,” with one 2004 study by Dr. Steven L. West and Dr. Keri K. O’Neal explaining that regardless if a person receives D.A.R.E. instruction or not, “use of alcohol and other drugs reaches a peak during adolescence or young adulthood and decreases steadily thereafter. Such a developmental path would be expected of all individuals, regardless of their exposure to a prevention effort. Ideally, individuals enrolled in a program such as D.A.R.E. would report limited or no use during their adolescent and young adult years. The fact that half of the included studies reported no beneficial effect of D.A.R.E. beyond what would be expected by chance casts serious doubt on its utility.”
McMillion explained that after these studies, D.A.R.E. organizers pulled back and have been relaunching in recent years.
“They’re starting to bring it back. … They changed more of the material. It still covers everything but it’s not just about drugs. Nowadays you see more underage kids vaping. Back when I went to school they never talked about vaping because it was nonexistent. Now it’s in there.”
This was also highlighted by Lewisburg D.A.R.E. Officer Jonathan Hughes during an interview with The West Virginia Daily News in 2020.
“When you think of D.A.R.E., most people think of saying no to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, and that’s part of it, [but] it is how to deal with stress, how to find out if other kids are dealing with stress, bullying is big,” Hughes explained. “There are enhancement lessons on vaping, stuff like that. Trends right now. How to have confident communication skills. It’s more than drugs and alcohol – that’s always going to be a part of it, … but we want kids to learn what peer pressure is, avoidance techniques, or just to not put yourself in the situation. It’s a pretty well-rounded program.”
The program now covers new threats to kids as well.
“It helps keep the community safe online,” McMillion said. “You know as well as I know that kids get bullied through the internet. Sometimes females get blackmailed. In West Virginia, you’re not supposed to send inappropriate photos, but kids still do. Next thing you know, you’ve got little Tommy blackmailing little Susie ‘if you don’t do this, I’m going to send these photos to everyone in the school.’ You’ve got an officer having to respond.”
In order to teach, McMillion went to Virginia for an intense crash course on both what he needs to teach and how to teach it.
“I just got back — I went two weeks in Culpeper Virginia for the D.A.R.E. class. It was very intense, they cram a whole bunch of information into you for two weeks. People think you’re just reading out of a book. You’re not, you’ve got to memorize this, you’ve got to get it set up to your way of teaching kids. There are more than one type of learners, you’ve got visual learners [uses pictures best], auditory learners, they get it when you are talking to them. You’ve gotta find something best to use with the individual kids.”
Chief Jerry Hopkins was excited to get the program started again, “especially with the amount of hard drugs we’ve encountered in the county in the last five years. It’s pretty bad. … We usually get around a call a week on something like that. When I first started 30 years ago it used to be pills, but now it’s meth and heroin. When I started out … it was pretty much a daily thing with pills. It’s different — same base drug but they flipped the script. The pills got so expensive that a normal person couldn’t buy them. Then you get a dime of heroin, it’s a whole lot cheaper. It’s a whole lot more of a chance of you going out too.”
This takes a toll on the users, their families, their friends, and the officers and emergency responders who address these calls.
“A lot of the young, in their early 20s, are dying from overdoses. We had two in two weeks OD in Alderson and it was terrible. It’s a hard deal. … We deal with methamphetamines. When you stay up so long your mind is not able to handle it. You start tweaking and then it becomes a mental health issue. I’ve had people run in here like dogs were chasing them. You’re trying to talk to them and calm them down — I had one guy jump out of an ambulance.”
McMillion hopes more West Virginia officers will take the training.
“I was the only one from West Virginia that went. Everybody that was in my class were all from the Virginia area. You would think there would be more officers from West Virginia wanting to teach it because now they have more school resource officers in schools.”
So far, McMillion only has one criticism of the program, but also noted he understood the reasons behind it.
“It could have been a little longer so everything doesn’t feel quite as crammed into you, but I know a lot of departments can’t have officers out that long,” McMillion said.
“It was a great experience and I can’t wait for school to start back. … I think kids need to be taught this because if you can reach out to one person, you’ve done something. Maybe that’s what I can do — reach out to one kid. The more you go, the more you teach something and work with something, the better you’ll get at it. You won’t always know it all, but you can still practice and get better. The longer I go teaching, the better I’ll get.”