In response to a lack of accurate, science-based and compassionate drug education resources, the Drug Policy Alliance created a set of materials called Safety First. The Safety First teen drug education program is designed to foster open and honest conversation among teenagers, educators and parents.
The materials evolved from a letter written by drug researcher Marsha Rosenbaum, Ph.D. to her son just before he started high school. In her letter, Dr. Rosenbaum urged her son, Johnny, to avoid using drugs. She described their potential short and long-term risks, including the possibilities of overdose and arrest. She also acknowledged the reality that in spite of her recommendations, he might choose to experiment with drugs. Whether or not he did, though, Dr. Rosenbaum wrote that he could always talk to her. And if she didn’t know the answers to his questions, she promised to help him find them.
The philosophy behind Dr. Rosenbaum’s letter and the Safety First program is called “harm reduction.” When it comes to drug education, a harm reduction approach discourages young people from using alcohol and other drugs. But it offers more than an abstinence-only approach, because it also provides teenagers with information to keep themselves and their friends safe if and when they do encounter these substances.
For example, abstinence-only education may tell young people that they should refrain from using drugs because they could overdose. Harm reduction drug education explains how to recognize the signs of drug overdose, how to respond and how to get help if they fear that a friend is overdosing.
There are many types of harm reduction strategies. They are all based on the understanding that some young people do use drugs, and that pretending otherwise does not do anything to prevent that use. However, pretending all drugs are equally dangerous, exaggerating drug risks, or denying that some teens use drugs may discourage young people from asking adults for help.
Safety First keeps the lines of communication open so young people can get the information and help they may need. Whether you’re a parent or an educator, below you can find helpful resources for talking to teens about drugs.
As a parent, it can be difficult to talk with your kids about drugs. What exactly should you say? How honest should you be? You can start by checking out these guides:
As a teacher, it can be daunting to approach drug education. You may wonder if parents will get upset about what their teens learn in school or what to do if students tell you that they are using drugs.
To help you address these questions, DPA is developing a curriculum for students in the 9th and 10th grades. Safety First: Real Drug Education for Teens will adhere to research-based prevention and drug education principles while equipping teens to make safer choices about drug use.
After completing the curriculum, students should be able to:
The curriculum is scheduled for a limited pilot during the 2017-2018 school year, and hopefully will be ready for full public release during the 2018-2019 school year.
For more background on why a new type of drug education model is necessary, read Beyond Zero Tolerance A Reality-Based Approach to Drug Education and School Discipline by Rodney Skager, PhD, which provides the foundation for much of the Safety First curriculum.