Teaching At Its Best
A Holistic Approach to Teaching A Drug Free Program

A Holistic Approach to Teaching A Drug Free Program

Many of us in the “visiting teacher” category are from special interest organizations that target a specific subject area. My organization, Pa. Alcohol (and Drug) Education Foundation, has done visiting teaching on Substance Abuse Prevention in Pennsylvania school districts for over thirty years. Our parent organization, Pennsylvanians Concerned about Alcohol Problems, has its roots in the American Temperance Movement of the early 1900s. Things have changed considerably since our founding, and we have needed to update our methods of teaching and the resources we use to present.

The Natural High (NH) program is one that I have found to be refreshing and uplifting.

Before offering the Vape segment and Fentanyl segment, we do a brief Kahoot Poll. It acts as a “what do we really know” eye-opener. Teachers appreciate this because it gives them an idea of where their students are on these subjects.

I like to use NH to:

  1. Introduce a concept/subject
  2. Open class dialogues
  3. Use as a reference point as we teach the specific drug abuse subjects (alcohol, marijuana, opioids, etc.)

I will illustrate those three points.

Since 2022 I have used these materials over one hundred times. I have used it with seven different school districts in health classes of grades 6-12.

1. How Natural High introduces a subject and opens minds.
Natural High's Dr. Matt Bellace explains how a Natural High (NH) program helps us stay on track. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUo96gJCrK0

He also teaches a hard-hitting segment on Vaping.

Background from research: In that NH vaping segment, he illustrates how only 15 years ago, American Tobacco Companies developed a media campaign targeting youth to create a replacement for lost sales from their cigarette business revenue. The lost sales occurred because of the Federal Government's revised tobacco sales guidelines, and the Feds won a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the tobacco companies for public health damages. 

American Tobacco companies countered this with Vaping (nicotine delivery) devices under the guise of a "smoking deterrent device/tool." They created ads showing vaping as a "cool thing to do," used pop culture icons to hype them, offered sweet candylike flavors, named them with similar popular candy names (Sweet and Sour Patch, etc. and made the product easily accessible.

That new market is so successful it was labeled an "epidemic" by our Federal Government. In 10 years, the use of vapes skyrocketed among young people. From Federal surveys: 14% of high school students use vapes regularly. In 2022, 1 in 10 middle and high schoolers vaped. Federal efforts have been unsuccessful in stopping the spread of this public health problem.

The medical effects of vaping are relatively unknown. We don't know, for example, the cancer ratio for users after 5-10-15 years of regular vape usage. It will take decades to unravel the intertwining problems created by this.
But wait, there's more.

Another unintended outcome of this health problem has been using these "nicotine delivery devices" for all kinds of other illegal drugs, especially marijuana. That is the newest illegal drug epidemic surfacing among young adults, and Vaping weed regularly among high schoolers has hit over 20%. We will also see decades of problems generated by this problem. Now it's getting worse.

In 2022, we also see a new and alarming issue surfacing: a synthetically produced drug called Fentanyl. This drug is showing up in various ways, such as mixed into counterfeit, illegal pills such as Oxycontin. These can also be purchased on the internet, and illegal drug organizations have found this to be a new profit center.

Fentanyl has been found at schools in vape pods in confiscated vape devices, and Fentanyl has become the number one killer of young adults. School Administrators and teachers are shocked. Parents are asking educators, "what are you/we doing about it?" 

One solution is to educate the students about the real truth.
Natural High has developed an award-winning Fentanyl video and offers free resources on all areas of concern regarding Fentanyl. (https://www.naturalhigh.org/#fentanyl-signup)

The Dr. Matt Bellace Natural High Vaping video is a great introduction to help our young people and their parents, teachers, administrators, and medical professionals see what unrestrained marketing and distribution are capable of doing.

As mentioned previously, these illegal drugs can reach every home in America. In the NH Vaping video (https://www.naturalhigh.org/storyteller/matt-bellace-ph-d/), Dr. Bellace speaks about what I call the "clock cycle of addiction." It describes what happens to the human body when a drug enters the system, begins to wear off, and the body, in withdrawal, screams out for more. The body is in a cycle that never ends. When I explain this to students, they look like "a light bulb just went off" in their brains. It's amazing how many sit up straight and start listening. It becomes much easier to understand why marijuana (in the liquid form of THC) can be addictive when used in a Vape device. Perhaps they have seen it happen to friends or relatives.

Coupled with the knowledge that vaping devices were marketed and sold with a less than honorable intent, it is easy to understand how these other drugs, such as Marijuana and Fentanyl, are being sold to Americans by organized crime. Dr. Bellace states "his generation" is not happy with this practice. Then he asks, "Aren't you unhappy with this practice also? Your generation shouldn't have to accept this."

2. How does NH introduce class dialogues?
Dr. Bellace speaks about what he is more interested in doing. He is interested in pursuing his Natural High. He lists a number of his favorite pursuits, like surfing, biking, cooking, gardening, eating, etc. It is a perfect segue for me to ask the class, “What about you? What are your Natural Highs?” When there’s a lag in the answers, I share my NH. I also ask the students what are theirs. It is a great icebreaker.

The next question is, “What can get in the way of you doing your Natural High?” Some subset questions might be, “Do you share your NH with others? Why do you like it? How does it tie into your life goals?”

We have spent entire class hours getting to know each other through our Natural High interests, which creates trust and bonding.

3. Using Natural High videos/tools as a resource for drug-free teaching. 
As I’ve explained, vaping, other drugs like fentanyl, and the concept of replacing an artificial high with a natural high are all part of a holistic approach to teaching a drug-free program.

  • The ideas we see in the concept of natural high activities translate into ways to keep on track to a promising future and are also ways to help others in our community get on a good track.
  • We discuss scenarios where that may happen.
  • Sometimes we talk about how to go about bringing a friend back from a desperate and dismal future.
  • We remind them of the difference between good risks and bad decisions.
  • We discuss having clear minds and healthy bodies as a goal to help us live our natural Highs.
  • We look at outcomes and real consequences.

No matter what we discuss, we can constantly revert back to the original goodness found in “what it is that makes you happy, your natural highs.” We build on the examples students give each other to offer it to their friends.

Students are surprising! They will come up with some natural high ideas and activities I never would think of. Students, for example, speak of Lego building, baking cakes, playing with younger siblings, and story-writing as passions they might pursue and share with each other. So much brighter than the dark world of drug addiction, isn’t it?

After the segment we teach on helping our friends/classmates through sharing our natural high, a student came up to us and thanked us for inspiring them with this class. They were going to use it with their friends who are involved in a drug life. The youthful radiance and honesty we both saw in her demeanor told us we had done something good. She was genuinely worried about her friends and wanted to do something. We gave her some tools. We looked at each other and high-fived! It was a natural thing to do!

Please visit the Natural High website to learn more about this and other subjects. The videos are 3-6 minutes long, so you can grab a sandwich and be done with the video before you know it!

This guest article was written by Barry Heckman while taking the online continuing education course Hooked on Success: Helping Students Discover Passion & Purpose by THI instructor James Mario Reaves.

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