USC warns students of drug use as school confirms 9 deaths this semester

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A high number of student deaths at the University of Southern California has prompted an expansion in mental health services and raised an alert about use of street drugs.

In a letter to students, USC officials confirm nine deaths in the Fall semester. They include three suicides, one traffic death and others that may have been caused by drugs.

"We are concerned about reports of drug use and we are concerned about that potential for overdose," says Dr. Sarah Van Orman, Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs.

The latest letter on Tuesday includes an explicit warning to students about recreational drugs, which could be tainted without the user's knowledge. Mixing alcohol with drugs is another hazard.

Toxicology tests conducted by the coroner will determine whether opioids or other controlled substances were involved in the student deaths. USC says that the findings may not be released to the university.

There is no hard evidence of drug use.

"We are hearing rumors. We are hearing information. While it is not our job to determine that it is accurate or not we want to make sure that if there is a risk to individuals that we communicate that clearly," says Van Orman.

As students struggle with news of the deaths, there is increased focus on mental health services. Some students complain about long wait times for an appointment if their complaint is not an emergency.

Van Orman says that USC has just hired 12 new counselors which boosts their counseling capacity by 50%. There is also a plan to open a dedicated unit for students with long term needs.

The move comes as colleges across the nation are trying to meet a growing demand. According to Van Orman, the number of students seeking mental health services across the country has doubled in the last 10 years.
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