The Park View student village is the pinnacle of luxury.
Newcastle University's recently renovated dormitories have en suite rooms with double beds. Each apartment has a shared kitchen with a widescreen TV.
Behind freshly painted purple and blue walls are laundry facilities that students can control via smartphones and a playroom.
The biggest selling point for this £ 75 million refurbished block – for anxious parents who are leaving their children for the first time – is the 24-hour security in the form of surveillance cameras and security guards, so as the narrators of the virtual tour, reassuring viewers : "You feel safe and are looked after at all times."
Antonia Hoyle explores how covid restrictions and social media dealer advertising are boosting student drug use following Jeni Larmour's death (pictured)
How terribly ironic those words sound now. On October 3, 18-year-old fresher Jeni Larmour died in these halls after presumably taking the class B drug ketamine. Her death was the first of four drug-related deaths in the city that weekend.
Hours later, 18-year-old high school leaver Mark Johnston was pronounced dead after reportedly taking the class A drug MDMA in an apartment minutes away. The next morning, a 21-year-old student at neighboring Northumbria University died in hospital, also suspected of taking MDMA.
And that afternoon, the police were called back to the Park View student village where another 18-year-old student who was also said to have taken ketamine died.
An 18-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of drug delivery after the second girl died. Since then, ten more people have been arrested and released on bail. No fees are expected until the end of the month.
Architecture and urban planning student Jeni had arrived at Newcastle University less than 48 hours earlier. Her mother Sandra had barely returned to the family home in Northern Ireland before learning that her daughter had died. When distraught Sandra paid a heartbreaking tribute to her "beautiful princess" and "best friend", the parents of other newly arrived students – who had the most difficulty adjusting to the restrictions placed on them to contain the pandemic – were shaken.
If students on this Newcastle University campus aren't safe, what hope is there for the rest of the country's students?
Our research shows that both Newcastle University and Northumbria University, a former polytechnic also located in the heart of Newcastle, have long struggled to control student drug use, which is widespread among students.
High school graduate Mark Johnston, 18 (pictured) was pronounced dead after reportedly taking the class A drug MDMA
It seems that the situation has only gotten worse – thanks not only to social media making the drugs easier to access, but also to Covid restrictions which mean thousands of students – many of whom are leaving for the first time – from home gone – are currently barricaded in dormitories.
It was revealed earlier this month that vendors were promoting their services on Instagram to Newcastle students, making getting medication as easy as buying a pint of beer – or even easier, as bars now close at 10pm.
Coronavirus infections are serious here – recently 1,752 of Newcastle University's 28,000 students tested positive, while in one week 770 positive tests were recorded at Northumbria University. The following week, another 749 Newcastle University students tested positive.
Because of the lockdown, many students are placed in dormitories, where they take drugs without the supervision that a pub or nightclub might provide. Equally important is that many feel emotionally isolated – forced to only mingle with those in their immediate surroundings, the attraction of illegal substances as social lubricants is strong.
A toxic mix and most students seem to believe drug use will continue despite the tragic deaths.
"It's an accepted part of university life," a Northumbria University student who was visiting bars in town with his roommate told the Mail. "It's really easy to get drugs." Despite Covid, they're definitely still going on, and the 10 p.m. curfew makes no difference. "
Jeni (pictured), who grew up in County Armagh, was the assistant principal of her school and had a job in her local business
They're ubiquitous at parties after curfew, he adds, "We have afters," parties at someone's home after you're gone. They can go on until 9 am the next morning. The deaths here get me twice let me think about it. "
A “drug amnesty box” has been set up for Newcastle University students to dispose of unwanted drugs. How many will use it remains to be seen.
“When I got to university, it was a surprise to me how many people were using drugs. At every party and every night, people have something to offer you, ”says Maddie Roberts, 20, a third-year business student at Newcastle University who advocates drug testing kits that show whether substances contain harmful ingredients Not. be made available on campus.
The proliferation of drugs must have been shocking to Jeni Larmour. Her grandparents and uncle were raised by a loving family in a close-knit rural community two miles outside of Newtownhamilton, County Armagh, and both have farms across from their parents' home.
Jeni was a smart and ambitious young woman and the assistant principal of her school. She had a job in her local business, was involved in her school choir, and enjoyed being a member of the Cadets. The idea that she would take drugs seems incomprehensible to many.
"I don't think she would have been willing to take drugs," said Piper Hebditch, 18, who met Jeni at the 2018 Army Cadets Round Britain Sailing Challenge.
Newcastle University students have reported receiving cards with details of an Instagram account that they could send for drugs (file image).
Piper, a student from Peterborough, recalls a “confident” friend who liked a party but kept a naive wonder in the world: “She was so excited, even when we were at 4am at 2 degrees in the middle of the Irish Sea were on. The look of wonder on their faces when we saw the seals or dolphins could warm even the coldest of hearts. "
And for all her trust, it would be hard not to feel overwhelmed as she said goodbye to her mother in the city center on Friday, October 2nd.
Before the renovation, the halls she chose had the reputation of being the university's party block. "If you need some alone time or really don't want to soak up the party atmosphere, don't vote here," read an online review, while "loud" and "great for socializing" are different judgments. Even if students hadn't thought about using drugs beforehand, the seed will soon be planted in their minds.
This month, students reported cards left under their doors with details of an Instagram account to send. "If you credit it, there are pictures of drugs that tell you what they're selling," said a 19-year-old psychology student at Newcastle University.
Other traders brazenly approach students on the street. The other day a red van was driving around with a couple of guys. It stopped next to me and one of them said, "Do you want ket (ketamine)?" A Newcastle University student shared the mail. “I saw him pull up next to other people. Often people will come up to you and ask if you would like to buy drugs. "
A 20-year-old math student at Newcastle University was convicted of trafficking cocaine from its halls in 2005 (file picture).
Some suppliers are as young as the students they are selling to – in fact, they can be students themselves.
In 2005, a 20-year-old math student at Newcastle University was convicted of trafficking cocaine from its halls, while former Northumbria University geography graduate Omar Sharif, 24, was convicted in 2018 of trafficking in MDMA and raping women who drugged him was convicted.
A Northumbria University student who admitted to having regularly used drugs said he obtained them through "a friend of a friend's," adding that "the appeal of drugs (via alcohol) is that there is no hangover and there is is cheaper ".
While previous generations may have looked into cocaine, ketamine – an anesthetic that was originally used as a sedative for horses – is now the most popular drug for college students. Maddie Roberts says it's both "readily available" and "not particularly expensive".
A Northumbria University student added, “People do ket to relax. The attraction is that it's cheap. You might pay £ 10 for a cocktail but £ 5 for a drug that lasts all night. "
However, it is a well-known depressant that can also cause convulsions, restlessness, and high blood pressure, and it can prove fatal due to its effects on the heart. When it is cut with other powders to help it move further, it's especially dangerous – a practice some experts believe has been particularly common since the lock.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, there were fears that border closings would lead to fewer drugs entering the country," said a drug worker. "It seems like that might be a good thing – but often it means the drugs are cut with things to add volume and this is where you get the bad amount of medication."
A Northumbria University student who uses "ket" to "chill" heard about contaminated ketamine and MDMA supplies from his dealer (file picture).
He adds, "Under normal circumstances these substances would be taken in clubs that have paramedics."
While the police are investigating, there are unconfirmed rumors that contaminated supplies of ketamine and MDMA caused the four deaths. "I found out what happened to the girls through my dealer," says the Northumbria University student who uses "ket" to relax. He adds, “It was apparently a mixture of ketamine and fentanyl (an opioid). It was bad drugs and too much and they had no way of knowing. "
Peer pressure turns adolescents who never dreamed of using drugs into experimenting.
"It is part of university culture these days to use drugs," says a student at Northumbria University. “I think more students do it than not. People will anytime – I was in a pub toilet with friends of friends when they asked me to cough loudly so other people couldn't hear them sniffing cocaine. I didn't feel like I could say no. "
Others are using medication to self-medicate for the traumatic effects of lockdown on student life – with online lectures and the new newbies crumbling with each additional restriction.
A Northumbria University student told us he believed drug use could also increase if students stay in their halls. "When the students are inside now, they can do things that they normally wouldn't," he says. "Most people may go crazy because they're from a small town and have never seen this party life and just go crazy."
University students were reportedly given 3 pound test kits to check whether drugs were safe or not in 2016 (file image)
Matthew Crawford, 20, a civil engineering student at Northumbria University who says getting drugs is “stupid” adds, “Even if you say no the first time you're stuck with six people for two weeks that you don't know could be really easy just to think, "Yeah, you know what, I'll do a little bit of this." "Sonya Jones, youth team manager at Drugs, Alcohol and Mental Health Charity, We Are With You, stresses the need for students to feel supported after the tragedy:" Many university students are locked in their rooms and don't know when they will come to terms with a very different first year experience than they could ever have imagined. & # 39;
What are both universities doing to help? Northumbria University has a zero tolerance approach to students who use drugs (they are evicted) in university accommodation. If Newcastle University students are in possession of illegal substances, their evictions will be on hold if no further offenses exist.
His messages seem contradictory – in 2016, students were reportedly given £ 3 worth of test kits to check if drugs were safe or not. But the following year it teamed up with police to conduct random drug searches with sniffer dogs after drugs were found in the halls.
A Newcastle University spokesman said they worked hard to educate students about the dangers of drugs and to support those affected by their own use.
A Northumbria University spokesman said, "We have a zero tolerance stance towards students who use drugs."
It remains to be seen whether either strategy will work.
Additional coverage from Stephanie Condron and Alex Storey.
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