Police Say MDMA and Ketamine Linked to Three Student Deaths in Newcastle

Another young person was found dead in a fourth drug-related death in the city over the weekend.
October 5, 2020, 3:01pm
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Photo: Washington Imaging / Alamy Stock Photo

Investigations have been launched after a total of four young people died in or around Newcastle this weekend, according to Northumbria Police. A spokesperson said in a statement that drugs, including ketamine and MDMA, are suspected to have been involved in all of the deaths.

On Saturday morning, police were alerted to attend to an unconscious woman at university halls on Richardson Road in Newcastle. The 18-year-old – a student at the University of Newcastle, who is believed to have taken ketamine – was pronounced dead at the scene.

Northumberland Police say that an 18-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of supplying a Class B drug, but has since been released on bail.

On Sunday morning, police were informed of a 21-year old student at Northumbria University – also in Newcastle – becoming ill. The man, who is believed to have taken MDMA, was transported to a hospital but died a short time later. According to police, a 20-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of supplying Class A drugs but has since been released on bail.

On Sunday afternoon, in the same Richardson Road building where the first student was found, police were called to attend to the death of another 18-year-old Newcastle University student. Ketamine was present at the address, and an 18-year-old student was arrested on suspicion of supplying a controlled drug, but has been released on bail.

As a result of the student deaths, police have said they will be conducting consent-based room searches at student accommodation with sniffer dogs.

Another young person, who was not a student, was found dead this weekend in a house in Washington, a town to the south east of Newcastle. Officers and ambulance staff were called to the scene on Saturday afternoon, but the man died shortly after. It is believed his death is MDMA-related.

After the news of the deaths, the Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University, Professor Chris Day, sent an email to all students, warning them of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

“I know how different the start of this term has been and that it is exciting to be back at university with your friends after the last six months. But your safety is in your hands,” the email read. “If you drink, then make sure you do so sensibly and that you look after each other. Remember, it is against the law to take and supply drugs and it is also extremely dangerous.”

Newcastle students have criticised the response. In a tweet, PhD student Alicia Hannah Souter, who researches pre-drinking culture at the university, said, “The email has no empathy or sympathy.” Souter added that the hardline stance “causes more issues than it solves”.

A spokesperson for the University of Newcastle said: “We are devastated to learn of a second death at our University and our wellbeing teams are providing support to those affected […] The health and safety of our students is our utmost priority. Students who are found with illegal substances are subject to disciplinary procedures ranging from written caution to expulsion from the University.”

Professor Fiona Measham, director of drug charity The Loop, said: “University is a period when young adults seek out new experiences and take risks, and experimenting with drugs may be a part of that for some students.

“This autumn, there are additional concerns for students because nightclubs remain closed and pubs are closing early, so student parties are more likely to be in private houses and student halls of residence. Look after your friends, and if someone takes a turn for the worse, please seek medical help immediately.”