USC President Carol L. Folt says in remarks reported Thursday that police investigators are looking into drug overdoses as a potential cause of death among some of the nine students who have died this semester.
While Folt would not elaborate on the scope of the inquiries or circumstances of the individual deaths, citing federal student privacy laws, she said Wednesday USC is working with the Los Angles Police Department on the cases and “doubling down” on education and outreach over drug abuse, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Three of the nine deaths have been ruled suicides, but the cause or causes in the remaining cases have not been officially determined.
Investigators are trying to determine whether any student deaths are connected with tainted drugs, said sources who spoke to The Times on the condition on anonymity because they were not authorized to comment. The sources stressed that no links to tainted drugs have yet been confirmed. Autopsies and toxicology tests are still pending in a number of the deaths.
“We’re doubling down on educating (students) about the harm and serious risks associated with all types of drug abuse and substance abuse,” Folt said. “And in particular, we’ve been also talking about the real risks of mixing opioids and prescription drugs and alcohol because we are concerned about that.”
In a letter sent to staff and students just after 10 p.m. Tuesday, top USC officials warned against the dangers of drug use “specifically opioids” and the sometimes lethal mixture of drugs and alcohol. The statement further warns about the increase of contaminated drugs.
“We all know that people that get drugs on the street have no idea what is in those drugs,” she said, according to The Times.
Nine students have died this this semester, more than the total for each of the two previous academic years.
The number increased to nine on Monday, when a USC student was found dead at The Dunes apartment complex in University Park.
Kevin Franco, 27, of Los Angeles was found dead about 3 p.m. Monday in the 1200 block of West 29th Street, according to the coroner’s office and the Los Angeles Police Department. An autopsy was pending. No foul play was suspected, according to the LAPD.
One of the other students who died this semester was freshman Matthew Olson of Newport Beach, who was killed while walking on the 110 Freeway early on Aug. 26.
Causes of death for all nine students vary and include suicide, according to the university. Fold says it is “not correct” that most of the deaths were the result of suicide.
“These tragic losses have resulted from a number of different causes. In some cases the cause of death is still undetermined, and in others loved ones do not want details disclosed,” Folt said in her Tuesday night letter.
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