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Education: Lesson Plans

Drug Use and Abuse: Past and Present

grade level: 10–12 | subject: health education, history and social studies

Time needed

three 45-minute class periods


This lesson plan uses the historical case studies of five drugs featured in the online exhibition, Pick Your Poison: Intoxicating Pleasures and Medical Prescriptions. In Class 1, students explore the Pick Your Poison exhibition, and gather information on the medical and recreational use of five drugs—tobacco, alcohol, opiates, cocaine, and marijuana in the past. At the end of the class, students form working groups and select one of five drugs as the group’s research topic. In Class 2, students build on their understanding of how drug use and regulations have changed over time, influenced by multiple factors—medical, social, commercial, and cultural. They work in groups to conduct research and prepare informational presentations on the substances that groups have chosen. In Class 3, groups present their research findings that include the history of the drug as well as additional fact-based information to discourage young people from using/abusing the substance. Students also completed project and group evaluations at the end of the class.

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  • learning outcomes
    Students will be able to
    • Identify three historical facts about medical and/or recreational use of nicotine, cocaine, alcohol, opium, and marijuana.
    • Compare influences of advertisements, doctors/pharmacists, users, and laws on drug use, such as tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, opiates and cocaine in the context of US history.
    • Explain the connection between the aforementioned influences and how the acceptability and illegality of recreational and medical uses of tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, opiates and cocaine have changed over time.
    • Locate, evaluate, and organize relevant print and/or non-print information on selected drug.
    • Plan and construct an informative presentation as a group.
  • background information

    The Pick Your Poison: Intoxicating Pleasures and Medical Prescriptions online exhibition examines the history of five drugs—tobacco, cocaine, alcohol, opium, and marijuana—as their use/abuse and societal acceptance have changed throughout time based on various influences. The influences examined include advertisements, doctors and pharmacists, laws, and users/abusers. The exhibition offers historical perspectives that stimulate discussion surrounding various influences, and not a singular medical determinant, that have shaped societal and legal status/acceptance of each drug over time.

  • vocabulary

    The following words may be introduced or incorporated during class discussions: intoxicating, endorsing, menace, botany, disrepute, emancipated, virility, imperiled, temperance, fervently, manic, botanical

  • materials
    Print All Materials
    Other materials and set-ups:
  • class 1 procedures
    1. Begin the class with an activator activity using the Toothache Drop Advertisement for students to examine and interpret the advertisement from 1885 and answer the questions listed below the image. See suggested discussion guide on Teacher’s Toothache Drop Advertisement.
    2. Display the toothache drop advertisement and introduce students to the online exhibition, Pick Your Poison: Intoxicating Pleasures and Medical Prescriptions. Explain to students that they will explore the exhibition, in order to identify three historical facts about tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, opium, and marijuana and to compare influences that have changed their recreational or medical uses in the United States over time.
    3. Divide students into groups of five and provide a copy of Exhibition Data Collection to each group. Review the handout—five drug topics and a set of questions for each topic—as a class.
    4. Allow time for groups to access Pick Your Poison and complete their Exhibition Data Collection. [Students may access the online exhibition in a media center with multiple computers, or using printouts of the exhibition web pages.]
    5. Call groups together and have them report back on their findings/answers to the questions on each of the five drugs. Summarize students’ findings on the how and why the use and perception of those drugs have changed during 18th and 19th centuries in the United States. Collect the completed Exhibition Data Collection handouts from the groups.
    6. List the three tasks below for students to write their responses based on what they have learned from the Pick Your Poison exhibition and the class discussion. Collect the written responses from students at the end of the class.
      • List three historical facts you learned about each of the five drugs—tobacco, alcohol, opium, cocaine, and marijuana.
      • Describe in your own words the ways in which advertisements, physicians/pharmacists, users, and laws/regulations have influenced social and legal perceptions on the use of the five drugs in the past. How are they similar or different?
      • Choose one drug as your topic and outline how its use has changed over time in the United States.
    7. Class 1 Evaluation: Teachers may assess students’ progress through class discussions, completed Exhibition Data Collection handouts, and students’ written responses collected at the end of the class.
  • class 2 procedures
    1. Return students’ written responses from the end of Class 1, and conduct a class discussion using the following activator questions:
      • After reviewing the exhibition in the previous class and taking notes on the history and changes of drug use/abuse over time, how do you think drug use/abuse compares from the 1800’s to today?
      • What are some similarities between the history of drugs in the exhibition and today’s drug use/abuse? What are some differences? Be sure to consider the different drugs as well as their various influences.
    2. Divide students into groups of 4, and have each group choose (or assign each) one of the five drug topics from the Pick Your Poison exhibition. Tell students that they will work in groups to research and prepare an informational presentation on the drug that each group has chosen.
    3. Hand out copies of Group Project Guide, review the handout as a class, and address any question about the four roles of the group members, the approved online resources, and the project criteria and scoring rubric.
    4. Provide access to the Internet or printed resources to the groups for their research and preparation for the group presentations in the next class.
    5. As a class wrap up, ask each group to share one fact, and its source, that is new and will be included in their presentation.
    6. Class 2 Evaluation: Teachers may assess students with class discussions, informal observations of the group work, and the information and respective sources that each group shares at the end of the class.
  • class 3 procedures
    1. Assign a group presentation order and distribute copies of Group Project: Closure Questions to students. Review the handout as a class so that students may make notes during group presentations.
    2. Have each student group share its presentation with the class. Make sure students provide feedback to other groups, ask questions, and take notes that they will then use to complete the Group Project: Closure Questions handout.
    3. Allow students to complete the Group Project: Closure Questions handout, and call on a few students to share their answers. Collect the completed handout for evaluation.
    4. To wrap up, ask students to reflect on the information gathered, shared and learned over the last three classes. Have students share their most lasting insight that they have gained from the project—either from their own research or another group’s presentation.
    5. At the end of the class, tell students that they will evaluate how all group members performed during the research and presentation preparation. Provide copies of Group Evaluation for students to complete individually and submit.
    6. Class 3 Evaluation:Teachers may use the group presentation, the completed Group Project: Closure Questions and Group Evaluation handouts for evaluating students.
  • extension activities
    1. Have students select a controversial, drug-related question—e.g., Are drugs a negative influence on society? In determining a drug’s legal status, what matters more—societal perceptions of the drug or its harmful effects?—and prepare debates or write a position paper. Students must support their position with citations from credible sources.
    2. Have students create an informative advertisement, using those in Pick Your Poison as inspiration, meant for their peers or some other audience; or use MedlinePlus website to create an educational brochure or presentation about an addictive drug’s effects on human body and its current use in medical treatments, if any.
  • Common Core State Standards: English Language Arts
    Reading: Informational Text
    • Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
    • Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.
    • Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
    Speaking and Listening
    • Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade-level topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
    literacy in history/social studies
    • Determine the central idea or information of a primary or secondary source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • National Health Education Standards
    • Standard 2: Students will analyze the influence of family, peers, culture, media, technology, and other factors on health behaviors.
    • Standard 3: Students will demonstrate the ability to access valid information, products, and services to enhance health.
    • Standard 7: Students will demonstrate the ability to practice health-enhancing behaviors and avoid or reduce health risks.
    • Standard 8: Students will demonstrate the ability to advocate for personal, family, and community health.
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