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Release: Immediate

UI study suggests substance abuse education may reduce recidivism

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A drug and alcohol program used widely in Iowa may play a role in discouraging at least some first-time drunken driving offenders from repeating their mistakes -- at least in the short term, according to a new University of Iowa study.

The study, produced by Harold Engen, professor emeritus of the UI College of Education, examined Iowa Department of Transportation records over 36 months to track recidivism (or relapse) rates among people convicted of drunken driving and ordered by the courts to take the "Talking About Alcohol ­ DUI (Driving UnImpaired)" course.

Of the 1,596 subjects studied, some 75 percent (1,197) had no previous drunken driving convictions prior to taking the course, while 25 percent (399) previously had two or more convictions.

Engen found that 22.3 percent of the subjects who had multiple offenses before taking the course were arrested again after completing the program, while only 18.5 percent of first-time offenders were re-arrested after taking the class.

Of the subjects who went on to recidivate after taking the class, far more multiple offenders than first-time offenders were rearrested (50.56 percent versus 17 percent). The finding supports the notion that the course has a greater impact on people who have fewer drunken driving convictions than on people with multiple convictions, according to Engen.

Engen said that while the findings may not be startling, they are significant because they represent what he believes to be one of the state's first assessments of a substance abuse program that is based on hard data. At the same time, he cautions that the data are not conclusive and that factors other than the "Talking About Alcohol DUI" program may have influenced the recidivism rates.

"It's unrealistic to expect every student who went through the State of Iowa's drunk driver education course to be cured," Engen said. "At the same time, we think it's important for people to know there are alternatives to punitive measures. Education may be an option for first-time offenders."

Under Iowa law, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol or other drugs. People convicted of OWI may be sentenced by the District Court may be sentenced to jail, fines, probation, community service, substance abuse evaluation and treatment or alternatives.

The 12-hour course, part of the "Talking About Alcohol and Drugs" series produced by the Prevention Research Institute in Lexington, Ky., is one such alternatives and is taught at 14 community colleges throughout Iowa.

Engen began evaluating the program for the Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation at the request of the Iowa Department of Education when the state adopted the program in 1993. The state Department of Education funded the research.