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Mar 30, 12:00 PM EDT

What is Harm Reduction?

Part of First of All

Hosted by Sasha Simon

Sponsored by Drug Policy Alliance

Decades of associating the term “harm reduction” with injection drug use often leaves adults and educators baffled about how the concept is applied in a classroom setting. 

Consider comprehensive sex ed as an example. We know that by speaking openly and honestly with youth about sex -- and the associated risks -- early on, we can reduce the occurrence of infectious diseases, stigma, teen pregnancy and even adolescent sexual activity. 

So why aren’t we using the same approach with drug education?

Harm reduction recognizes that total, life long abstinence among all people at all times is simply an unattainable goal. Reality-based education is key, and preparing young people to keep themselves and others safe is critical as they inevitably encounter more drugs as they progress into adulthood.

This episode explores the impact of Just Say No philosophies and the War on Drugs on the way we understand -- or don’t -- drugs. Learn harm reduction strategies that every teen and adult should know, even if they don’t use drugs.

About Sasha Simon

Sasha Simon is the Safety First Program Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, where she manages the development and evaluation of the U.S.'s first harm reduction-based drug education curriculum for 9th and 10th grade students. Simon has an extensive career working as a health educator at a variety of institutions, including Columbia University, City University of New York (CUNY), GHMC, and Health, Education & Research Occupations (HERO) High School, a 9-14 P-TECH school in the Bronx.  

An avid youth development specialist, Simon delivers youth-adult capacity building trainings to clinicians, parents, and youth-serving organizations to help increase their capacity for youth participation in organizational decision-making processes. Alongside a vast network of mentors of color, Simon volunteers her time supporting and removing financial barriers to higher learning for first-gen college students of color through the college application process.

About First of All

Most American millennials and Gen X-ers were students of abstinence-based drug education like D.A.R.E., which was, in the 80s and 90s, a pledge to a local police officer in 4th and 5th grade to never, ever do drugs. To not become one of “those people” in the commercials. 

Well, the results are in: we didn’t resist drugs, and accidental overdose is currently the leading cause of death under the age of 50 in the U.S., and stigmatizing and criminalizing approaches to drug education and drug use are largely to blame. We denied the reality and multifaceted reasons we use drugs, limiting our capacity to navigate an ever-evolving landscape of drug policy, drug development, and technological advances surrounding drug use and safety. 

While we have decades-long and failingly clung to ‘Just Say No’ prevention messaging and policies, information changes, science evolves and innovation disrupts. 

Hosted by Sasha Simon, Safety First Senior Program Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance, First of All aims to clear away all the junk science and stigma related to substance use, putting science, dignity and respect first. In this series, Simon brings key components of a harm reduction-approach to drug education to life online so viewers can discover innovative ways to learn about drugs that could save their lives or those of the people they love. 

Original Series

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