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I feel that my school's health curriculum is incredibly inadequate, with one reason being the contradiction between the curriculum's teachings of sexual abstinence and the fact that the school district gives out condoms to students. But beyond that, I feel that it is also inadequate because its teachings about drugs are both unspecific and inaccurate to a degree. The health curriculum textbook says that alcohol and drugs harm health and that they should not be consumed by teens; and while this is mostly true, the book makes no distinctions about which drugs do harm, as some drugs are far more harmful than others. Marijuana and most hallucinogens are relatively benign and pose little risk to health if used in moderation.

Moreover, in the curriculum, a documentary of a substance abuser is shown to students. This substance abuser, Chris Herren, starts off with marijuana in high school and moves on to cocaine, then begins to seek painkillers such as Vicodin and oxycontin, with the message of the documentary being that all drugs will make a person dependent and troubled. The problem with this portrayal is that the documentary never makes a distinction on the difference between users of dangerous and addictive substances for which they should seek help, and users of benign substances that are used in moderation and have low potential of dependence or overdose. Too often are these two categories confused.

The textbook also makes the assumption that teenagers only try drugs because of peer pressure and it urges teenagers not to succumb to peer pressure, which mischaracterizes teenagers as impulsive thrill-seekers. Teenage drug users are thought of as peer-pressured into doing it, while adult drug users are thought of as using it as an escape because of poverty and a bad life, while in reality it is more complex than that.

Giving students information about drugs that is vague and overgeneralized will likely lead to increased drug stigma, inevitable confusion and disillusionment later in life, and an inability to make distinctions on different types of drugs and evaluate the risk of each. The curriculum paints all drugs as bad and overuses hardcore drug addict stories to scare us off of drugs, but it does not tell us the truth: some drugs are far worse than others, and it is in fact possible to have a healthy relationship with benign drugs that are used in moderation.

It is upon this possibility that the idea of responsible drug use began to be disseminated as part of harm reduction strategies. Harm reduction aims to minimize the harms of potentially harmful behaviors and educate people about how to prevent such harms. For instance, some programs have provided supervised injection sites in which people who are addicted to heroin can have access to clean needles and thus minimize the risk of disease transmission, as well as seek help for their addiction. Though criticized by some as encouraging drug use, this harm reduction strategy has actually been successful at reducing disease transmission and overdose fatalities.

It is therefore evident that education on drugs as well as making clear the distinctions between dangerous and relatively safer drugs is a better strategy for tackling drug use than claiming that all drugs will cause a substantial amount of damage to one’s health. Reflecting upon the problem of the war on drugs, I have concluded that harm reduction is the best strategy for dealing with the war on drugs in America.

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