High School Drug Curriculum Includes Harm Reduction Emphasis

Nov 16, 2019 by

A new curriculum encourages high schoolers to abstain from substance use but acknowledges not all of them will.

By Katelyn Newman –

A new high school drug education curriculum aims to overhaul the Reagan-era “Just say no” mindset by teaching students how to critically think about and use drugs safely – if and when they choose to use.

In early October, the Drug Policy Alliance – a nonprofit that advocates for a harm-reduction approach to drug use – released its 15-class “Safety First: Real Drug Education for Teens” curriculum for free online, enabling teachers to download and incorporate the lesson plans into their health education classes. Much like a shift from preaching total abstinence to openly discussing safe sex, the goal is to help students make healthy choices.

“It takes a realistic approach, encouraging abstinence but also teaching strategies that help young people keep themselves or others safe if they ever choose to use drugs,” says Sasha Simon, program manager for the initiative.

“Even if teens aren’t using, as they get older, they more than likely will engage in some form of substance use, so the idea is to make sure they’re prepared for the life course,” Simon says.

Created to align with the National Health Education Standards and Common Core learning standards, the roughly 45-minute lessons range from covering how drugs work and various harm-reduction strategies to the effects, risks and benefits of different types of substances, including alcohol, marijuana, e-cigarettes and prescription and other opioids.

In its “Introduction to Harm Reduction” sample lesson plan, the curriculum instructs teachers to tell students that “the safest choice when it comes to alcohol and other drugs is always to abstain” from use. The lesson goes on to discuss other harm-reduction strategies, such as using substances in moderation, using drugs “at a low dose and a slow dosage,” checking drugs with a test or screening kit for dangerous adulterants and knowing what to do in an emergency situation.

Deadliest Drugs in America in 2017

A needle, spoon, and narcotics bag are seen near a heroin encampment in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 10, 2017.

In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is knowen, is ground zero in Philadelphia?s opioid epidemic. Known by locals as El Campanento, the open air drug market and heroin encampment is built with the discarded materials from the gulch and populated by addicts seeking a hit of heroin to keep their dope sick, or withdrawal symptoms, at bay. In one area, near the 2nd Avenue overpass, empty syringe wrappers blanket the refuse like grass 
the used needles they once contained poking through like thistles. According to the city Health Commission, Philadelphia is on track to see 33 percent more drug overdose deaths in 2017 over last year. 

 / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER        (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)

“Thinking through all the possibilities and consequences can take some time,” the lesson says. “But with practice, you can develop the habit of weighing your options and making a decision that will lead to the safest and healthiest outcome for you and others around you. Ultimately, putting harm reduction into practice will help keep you and your friends safer.”

A curriculum overview also says the lessons will help students “understand the impact of drug policies on personal and community health” and “learn how to advocate for restorative drug policies.”

Source: High School Drug Curriculum Includes Harm Reduction Emphasis | Healthiest Communities | US News

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