Jan. 11, 2024 – As science teacher Zach Lazar looks out across his classroom at South Eugene High School, he sees more kids struggling than he did before the pandemic. In the past two years, Lazar said, three of his students have died from drug use.

Lazar’s experience aligns with alarming trends: The rate of substance use disorder among Oregon youth ranks third in the country, and in the past six years, 348 Oregonians aged 15 to 24 died from accidental drug overdose. That’s enough to fill more than 15 high school classrooms.

In no other state have overdoses among teens aged 15 to 19 grown faster over the same time period, according to not-yet-finalized federal data. Now, a six-month investigation by The Lund Report in collaboration with the University of Oregon’s Catalyst Journalism Project and Oregon Public Broadcasting shows that a key institution — the state’s K-12 public school system — has failed to adapt to the new reality facing Oregon’s kids.

Oregon law requires administrators of every public school district in Oregon to have a robust substance use prevention strategy based on research. And studies suggest that well-crafted prevention programs can save tax dollars and young lives.