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. 
    • Interactive
    • Compassionate, taking into account that some youth will have used and/or sold drugs – or have close friends and family members who have.

Our Mission

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.

For Parents

SAFETY FIRST AND MENTAL HEALTH: Empowering Teens to Prevent and Reduce Drug Use

This video is the property of The Parent Venture and may not be copied or reproduced without their permission.

Fentanyl Awareness Day Presentation

* 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.