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 program is designed to foster open and honest conversation among teenagers, educators and parents.
Unlike D.A.R.E. and other abstinence-only programs, Safety First is based in the philosophy of 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.
DPA has developed the U.S.’s first harm reduction-based drug education curriculum for students in 9th and 10th grades. Safety First: Real Drug Education for High School Students adheres to research-based prevention and drug education principles while equipping teens to make safer choices about drug use.
Safety First is designed to be implemented in high school classrooms by health teachers, and consists of 14 lessons that can be completed in a 45- to 50-minute class period. Each lesson is designed to engage students through interactive activities such as discussion, research and role-playing. The lessons are aligned with the National Health Education Standards so that they may be easily integrated into health education classes. They are also scripted to facilitate use.
After completing Safety First, the curriculum aims to equip students to:
The curriculum had its initial pilot in March 2018 at Bard High School Early College in Manhattan. It will be evaluated, improved, and hopefully released to the public by fall 2018.
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.
DPA has a long history of providing guidance to parents on the difficult topic of how to talk with your kids about drugs. The core of this advice can be found in the Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs booklet. It is available in eight languages and has been widely distributed.
Parents can find further advice with these short tip sheets:
The Safety First 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.