Illustrations by Lisa Bizuneh.

Picture this — you and your friends decide to celebrate the end of midterms by going out for the night. Shots are taken, Ubers are called and off you go. 

Once at the party, the music pumps as you dance with two friends from your AMS 5 class. You and your friends continue drinking. One of your friends, Jack, drinks more than everyone else. It isn’t until you get home that you notice that Jack has pale skin and is experiencing extreme confusion. What do you do?

SHOP’s Party Safe team has the answer. 

Party Safe, housed under UC Santa Cruz’s Student Health Outreach and Promotion (SHOP), is a student-run initiative that seeks to educate students on the effects of alcohol and other drugs. The organization began in 2016, in response to six student deaths from overdoses in a 14 month period.

“The overall goal of Party Safe is to reduce the number of alcohol and drug related harms at UCSC, including overdose,” said Amber Parker, a health educator for SHOP who oversees the Party Safe team. “We strive to have open and honest dialogue with folks around their experiences.”

The organization recognizes that college is a time for students to explore their newfound independence. Whether it’s through an individual’s social life or new academic pursuits, a college experience is often defined by experimentation. Though controversial, alcohol and substance experimentation is abundant in college.

Party Safe hosts workshops by request. Student organizations are the most common requestees. However, any student can ask for a workshop. The goal is to provide alcohol, drug and mixing education while encouraging students to keep themselves and their friends safe. Most students think overdoses will never affect them, but UCSC sees many hospitalizations from alcohol poisoning annually.

Most students don’t receive proper education on substance engagement. Party Safe gives students the tools to experiment safely while engaging with substances. 

“Increased responsibility and stress — including facing major decisions that will direct the course of their academic, professional and personal lives — can cause a student to self-medicate if they lack the coping strategies for the increased demands and responsibilities they are facing,” said SHOP director Meg Kobe.

Party Safe tables at various campuswide events like Holi Fest. It also runs social media campaigns with drug facts, party plan tips and guides for how to consume responsibly.

The team strives to meet people wherever they’re at. Whether a student uses alcohol and other drugs daily or not at all, getting educated helps everyone.

“We teach based off a harm reduction philosophy,” said fourth-year and Chancellor’s Undergraduate Internship Program intern for Party Safe Ryan Conrad. “Instead of telling students to abstain from engaging in these substances, we understand that it is a very real part of the college experience, and we provide tips and tricks on how students can experiment safely.”

The purpose of having a student-run initiative is to promote a judgment-free environment, one where students can have the opportunity to receive knowledge about the substances they are interested in trying.

“A lot of students grew up with D.A.R.E. [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] or ‘Just Say No’ programs, which are abstinence-based,” Conrad said. “What Party Safe does is provide students with this knowledge in order to keep students safe and mindful. We provide a space for open discussion, no judgment included.”

One of the most profound lessons taught by Party Safe is their “party plans.” The organization encourages students to always have a party plan, and provides three-steps cards for people to fill out before going out for the night. 

“Party Safe in no way endorses students to go out and do drugs, try substances or to drink,” Conrad said. “It’s an understanding of the reality of the college lifestyle, it’s valid whether you choose to engage in it or not. We believe that access to this information is a basic right that all individuals should have.”


1. Be aware that playing drinking games increases the risk of an alcohol overdose. 

2. Alternate alcoholic drinks with water and/or other non-alcoholic beverages.

3. Always eat before going out.

4. Not all Xanax bars are equal in dosage. Doctors prescribe dosage based on the patient’s need. Make sure to know the dose before taking it.

5. Smoking cannabis is different than consuming edibles. For edibles, go “low and slow.” Edibles can take two hours to take effect. Wait before eating more.

6. With cocaine, it is difficult to tell what the drug is being cut with. To prevent harm, remember that a little goes a long way. Also, alcohol and cocaine are a common mix, but tough on the body. Choose one.

7. Acid is supposed to be flavorless. If the tab has any flavor, such as a bitter taste, do not use it. Using acid requires a good mindset. Only use it when your mindset has been continuously good for a few weeks.

8. Party Safe encourages students to follow their own, personalized party plan. Find what works for you.