Why 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.
Safety First is made up of 13 lessons on alcohol, opioids/fentanyl, psychedelics, and other drugs. 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 which there are any level of exposure to drugs. 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
Here's what to keep in mind when diving into the Safety First Curriculum:
- 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
Safety First Strategies
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.
Fischer, N.R. School-based harm reduction with adolescents: a pilot study. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy 17, 79 (2022). https://doi-org.laneproxy.stanford.edu/10.1186/s13011-022-00502-1
*More evaluations coming soon
Letter to Parents
The Open Letter for Parents/Guardians can be used by schools to inform parents about the Healthy Futures program.
Please feel free to modify or to add letterhead to meet your school's needs.
Open Letter for Parents/Guardians
Dear Parent or Caregiver,
As you probably know, adolescents’ use of drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, opioids including fentanyl, psychedelics, and others has increased in recent years. Fundamentally, it is important that we provide students with comprehensive drug education.
We have decided to utilize the Stanford Reach Lab’s Safety First: A Comprehensive, Harm-Reduction-Based, Drug Intervention Curriculum. Safety First is a theory-based and evidence-informed curriculum that encourages all youth to abstain from using drugs, but 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.
<<Next week or on * dates>>, students will begin learning about comprehensive drug education through Stanford’s “Safety First.”
What to expect from the Curriculum:
Educating and empowering teenagers to make safe and healthy choices must be our highest priority. The REACH Lab and Safety First do this by:
Encouraging youth not to use drugs in the first place
Encouraging youth who are already using to stop or at least cut back or make alternative choices to reduce their risk
Providing straightforward, science-based information
Exploring the risks and perceived benefits of drugs
Prioritizing safety through personal responsibility and knowledge.
Harm Reduction Education
A harm reduction approach to drug education discourages young people from using drugs, but offers more than an abstinence-only approach by providing teenagers with information to keep themselves and others safer if, and when, they encounter these substances.
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.
The Safety First curriculum includes 13 lessons, each providing activities, presentations, resources, and other materials aimed at addressing key factors associated with teen substance use.
<<**School District/School **>> is committed to providing the most effective approaches to preventing teen substance use in our schools and communities. We know that prevention of drug use is most effective when it is a partnership between the community, the home, and the school.
If you have any questions about this curriculum, you can email the Stanford REACH Lab team at: email@example.com.
Additionally, feel free to contact me at the email address below with any questions.
In order to create new, more animated and more exciting slides, we are now using Canva slides for each lesson.
We would like to encourage you to set up your free Canva Pro account! Link here for educators to set up their free account.
Educators who have a free or pro account with Canva will be able to:
- See the slides and talking points in the notes section.
- Make a copy and save slides to add personal adjustments.
- Share the slides with anyone who has or doesn't have a Canva account.
- Download the slides as PDF, PowerPoint or Video (depending on if the lesson includes videos).
To download your Canva presentation in PowerPoint format:
- Tap on the ellipsis icon on the menu bar.
- Scroll down until you see Share.
- Tap on the Microsoft PowerPoint option.
- Click the Download button on the dialog box.
Educators who want to download slides and import them into google slides please read the following:
Pre- and Post- Surveys
Before Getting Started:
Please register on our data dashboard platform below before beginning the curriculum! If you have registered before for another curriculum or grade, simply login to obtain your data collection code (teacher code).
Our dashboard helps educators obtain real-time data through short pre- and post-surveys on students' gained knowledge and intentions.
Introduction to Safety First Drug Education
Be sure to have students complete the Safety First pre-test before starting this lesson. Students will begin their drug education unit by defining what is a drug and discuss their perceptions about alcohol and other drugs.
Keeping You Safe; Reducing Your Harm: An Overview
Students will learn about harm reduction concepts and strategies, including ways to not use at all, that will empower them to make healthy choices for themselves and others regarding substance use.
Drugs and The YOU-Th Brain
Students will learn how unique their brains are and how drugs affect the brain, especially the developing teenage brain.
Stress, Coping, and Wellness
This lesson will review stress, discuss how to manage stress in a healthy way and to understand one’s own stress, understand and respond to stigma associated with drug use, and find ways to support a friend who is dealing with stress. The ultimate goal is to find ways to cope with stress without turning to drugs.
Students will learn about stimulant drugs, their effects, real and perceived benefits and risks. They will further discuss concepts of dose and dosage, particularly as related to the stimulant drug use.
Students will learn about the health effects, risks and real and perceived benefits of using nicotine e-cigarettes.
Students learn about the health effects, risks and real and perceived benefits of using cannabis.
Alcohol & Other Depressants
Students will learn about alcohol and other depressant drugs. They will read scenarios about alcohol use and offer strategies to help their peers reduce alcohol-related harms.
Prescription & Other Opioids
Students will learn about opioid drugs including fentanyl, their effects, risks, and real and perceived benefits. They will learn how to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose and respond appropriately.
Students will learn about psychedelic drugs, their effects, risks and real and perceived benefits. Also students will learn about the harm reduction practice of drug checking.
Media Literacy: Understanding The Portrayal of Drugs
Students will learn foundational media literacy knowledge and be offered tools to help them make healthy and informed decisions. The goal of this lesson is to reduce harm through knowing good drug information and using media literacy skills.
Zero-Tolerance: Understanding School Drug Policy
Students will be able to define zero-tolerance policy, and explain how it impacts students' health and well-being. Students will be able to analyze the impact of different school drug policies.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Students will reflect on what they’ve learned throughout the unit and will take a post-survey to assess their understanding of the content covered in the unit. Students will reflect on what they have learned by writing a letter to their future selves about drugs and drug use.
* 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.