Two 18-year-old female students, who had just started at Newcastle University, were among four people to die in the city after taking what are thought to be illegal drugs, police have said.
The girls, both freshers, were living in the same halls of residence in the city, when they took ill and died on Saturday.
Jeni Larmour, from County Armagh in Northern Ireland, who was in her first year studying architecture and town planning, was named as one of the girls who died.
Another student, a 21-year-old male undergraduate from Northumbria University, also died over the weekend after taking what is believed to be MDMA.
And a fourth death, of an 18-year-old man in Washington, Tyne and Wear, has also been linked to the effects of MDMA.
Northumbria Police have made 10 arrests in connection with the deaths and have carried out searches with drug dogs at university halls of residences.
Police said they received the first report at 6.05am on Saturday that a woman had taken ill and was unresponsive at a flat within the Park View Student Village.
Miss Larmour, who moved to Newcastle from Northern Ireland in August was pronounced dead at the scene.
An 18-year-old male, who is understood to be a fellow student, was arrested on suspicion of supplying a Class B drug and has since been released on police bail.
The following day at 1.10pm police received another call to the same building on Richardson Road in the city where they found another 18-year-old woman who was pronounced dead at the scene.
An 18-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of supplying a controlled drug and has been released on police bail.
Police have also confirmed they carried out a number of consent-based room searches at student accommodation with the Force’s drugs dogs, in collaboration with student wellbeing teams at Newcastle University and further patrols will be carried out today.
Earlier on Sunday morning officers were also called to an address in Melbourne Street in the city centre to reports that a 21-year-old student from Northumbria University had taken ill.
The victim, who is thought to have taken a quantity of MDMA, was rushed to hospital, but died a short time later.
A 20-year-old male arrested on suspicion of supplying Class A drugs has since been released on police bail.
The fourth suspected drug death in the region occurred on Saturday afternoon when an 18-year-old man suffered a suspected cardiac arrest at a property on Couch Road Estate, Washington.
Officers and emergency services attended but the man, who is not a university student, was pronounced dead a short time after.
Seven people were arrested in connection with this incident and have since been released under investigation.
Chief Inspector Steve Wykes said: “This weekend we have seen the tragic loss of four young lives and our thoughts continue to be with the family and friends of those who have sadly died.
"Although our investigations are at an early stage and we continue to establish the circumstances around these tragedies, we want to reiterate our warning to people against taking drugs for recreational use.
“The consequences could cost you your life. We will continue to work with both universities and will be increasing our patrols in the areas where these tragedies have occurred.”
He added: “We would urge anyone with any information in relation to these tragedies to come forward – even the smallest piece of information could help us.
"If anyone has any information about who has supplied the drugs in question then we would also encourage them to contact us at the earliest opportunity."
A Newcastle University spokesman said: "We are shocked and saddened to learn of the death of one of our students and our welfare teams are offering support to those affected.
"This is not Covid-related and as this is an active police investigation, we are unable to provide further comment at this time."
There are fears that local lockdown is leading young people into dangerous thrill-seeking because their social lives have been curtailed by the extra measures to battle Covid-19 in the North East.
Students said drugs were readily available through messaging services such as Snapchat and Whatsapp and there were rumours of a rogue batch of pills being offered around the campus.
One student said the death had been his mum's "worst fear" as he headed off to Newcastle University on Friday.
The 18-year-old man said: "When the news began reporting the death at the halls my mum was straight on the phone very upset.
"I didn't know the girl involved but she could only have been here a matter of days, I only arrived on Friday.
"I left with warnings from my mum and dad about this exact situation, this was my mum's worst fear, and there's been a real feeling of shock around the halls ever since, the atmosphere is very subdued."
Another student added: "Lockdown hasn't helped the situation. The pubs close at 10pm and people have been going back to their flat in halls to continue the party, which is what I heard happened here.
"At least one of the others who died are also students. We're not having what would be a normal freshers experience and some people are compensating for that."
An email, which was sent to all students from Newcastle Vice-Chancellor Chris Day, said: “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.
“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. Batches of drugs can vary in purity and strength and are potentially lethal, and mixing drugs with alcohol further increases this risk.”
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