Safety First: A Comprehensive, Harm-Reduction-Based, Drug Intervention Curriculum
Stanford’s REACH Lab is well known for our primary prevention education curriculum and resources, including our Tobacco Prevention Toolkit and our Cannabis Awareness and Prevention Toolkit. To be clear, first and foremost, prevention of any drug use is key and our priority.
However, in listening to our partners in the field, including educators, school administrators, youth, and others, it has become clear that since many youth are already using alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and other drugs, we need to expand our FREE resources and supports to meet the spectrum of needs, from primary prevention education (e.g., our You and Me, Together Vape-Free and Smart Talk: Cannabis curriculums), to interventions (such as our Healthy Futures: Alternative-to-Suspension), to our future plans to have cessation supports.
As such, we are pleased to have added a new FREE comprehensive drug intervention resource to the list of programs and curriculums we offer: REACH Lab’s Safety First: A Comprehensive, Harm-Reduction-Based, Drug Intervention Curriculum.*
The purpose of all of our curriculums is to encourage youth to abstain from use, but this curriculum also includes a clear harm-reduction message for youth who are experimenting or using, to provide high school students with scientifically accurate information to empower them to quit and/or reduce harm, should they choose to continue to use.
Introduction to Safety First
Audience: Safety First is meant for high school students. This curriculum is particularly relevant for students already using, for students at-risk for using, and/or for students living in communities in where drug use is prevalent. The curriculum is designed to be used in classrooms or group settings.
Safety First was developed according to the following principles:
- Americans have been trying to prevent teenagers from drug use for more than a century. A variety of methods, from scare tactics to “Just Say No” techniques have been used to prevent and reduce youth drug use.
- The safest path for teens is to avoid drugs altogether, including alcohol, cigarettes, cannabis, and prescription drugs outside of a doctor’s recommendations.
- Some youth will choose to try drugs, regardless of the risks. In order to reduce potential harm, we must teach young people strategies for keeping themselves and their friends safer when they do encounter drugs.
- Drug education should be:
- Scientifically accurate, providing accurate information about all drugs.
- Compassionate, taking into account that some youth will have used and/or sold drugs – or have close friends and family members who have.
Educating and empowering teenagers to make safe and healthy choices must be our highest priority.
- Encourage youth not to use drugs in the first place
- Encourage youth who are already using to stop or at least cut back or make alternative choices to reduce their risk
- Provide straightforward; science-based information
- Explore the real and perceived benefits
- Prioritize safety through personal responsibility and knowledge
What to Expect
- Define what is a drug and create initial dialogue with students on their perceptions about alcohol and other drugs;
- Lessons about how drugs affect the brain and body, especially the teenage brain, and factors that contribute to physical drug dependence
- Harm reduction concepts and strategies that can empower students to make healthy choices, using accurate, scientifically-based information
- Substantive lessons about the major categories of drugs: stimulants, cannabis, e-cigarettes/vaping, alcohol and other depressants, psychedelics, prescription and other opioids
- How to recognize problem use, signs of an overdose, and how to respond in an emergency
- Learn about other ways to help students cope with stress, anxiety, and depression without using drugs
What's the concept of harm reduction?
Safety First Does
- See abstinence as an important, and primary, strategy in reducing drug harms.
- Empower teens to make healthier choices through accurate information.
- Recognize that some teens will try drugs.
- Encourage teens to take steps to reduce the potential harms of drug use.
Safety First Does Not:
- Encourage or condone teen drug use.
- Teach teens how to use drugs
- Judge teens who use drugs.
Each lesson is designed to engage students through interactive activities such as discussions and role-playing. The curriculum is aligned with National Health Education Standards as well as Common Core State Standards so it can be easily integrated into Health classes.
Click the tiles below to access each Safety First lesson.
* Before jumping in, make sure to complete the Safety First Pre-Test.
Students examine their own beliefs about alcohol and other drugs by answering the question: “What is a drug?”. Take a pre-class survey to assess their prior knowledge and skills.
Students learn about harm reduction concepts and strategies, including abstinence, that will empower them to make healthy choices for themselves and others regarding substance use.
Students learn about mental health, differences between positive and negative stress, and healthy alternatives for coping.
Students learn how drugs affect the body and the brain, and specifically the teenage brain. They further discuss the factors that contribute to physical dependence.
Students learn about stimulant drugs, their effects, benefits and risks. They further discuss the harm reduction concepts particularly related to prescription stimulant drugs.
Students learn about the effects of depressant drugs with a focus on alcohol. They learn how to perform the recovery position and give advice about how to reduce alcohol-related harms using practice scenarios.
Students learn about harmful chemicals in e-cigarette aerosol, how the body is affected by e-cigarette use, and second/thirdhand smoke.
Students learn about where each part of e-cigaratte goes after disposal and how e-waste affects our environment and our community.
Students learn how tobacco marketing has historically targeted specific populations and e-cigartte marketing tactics.
Students will learn how to identify the various methods of cannabis use and about the health effects associated with cannabis use.
Students will learn how to describe a healthy community and how to use their voice to raise concerns.
Students learn about how to recognize strategies and tactics marketers use to sell cannabis. They will also learn how to decode cannabis marketing messages.
Students take an in-depth look at opioid drugs, their effects, risks, and benefits. They will learn how to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose and respond appropriately.
Students learn about psychedelic drugs, their effects, risks and benefits. They reflect on drug references in the media, specifically music, and how they influence teens. They also complete an activity that demonstrates the risks of illicit drug adulteration, and learn about the harm reduction practice of drug checking.
Students reflect on what they have learned by writing a letter to their future selves about drugs and drug use.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns about Safety First, please reach out to either:
Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher (firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Executive Director of Safety First)
Scott Gerbert (email@example.com)
(Director, Outreach and Strategic Partnerships Adolescent Health and Wellness)
* Safety First was created by the Drug Policy Alliance to ensure all young people have access to accurate, honest, compassionate drug education. Safety First has been edited and revised to provide updated scientific information and to align with the REACH Lab’s goals.