Nearly 600 suspected members of county lines drugs gangs have been arrested across the UK in the past week, the National Crime Agency has said.
Police forces led by the National County Lines Coordination Centre also seized cocaine worth £176,780; £312,649 in cash; and 46 weapons.
The NCA estimates there are about 2,000 city-based gangs exploiting young people to sell drugs in smaller towns.
It says tackling the gangs is a “national law enforcement priority”.
In the operation between 13 and 20 May:
- 500 men and 86 women were arrested
- 519 vulnerable adults and 364 children in need of support were helped
- 30 people were identified as potential victims of slavery or human trafficking
- Four guns were seized, as well as swords, machetes, an axe, knives, samurai swords, and a crossbow
- Drugs including cocaine with a street value of £176,780, crack worth £36,550 and £17,950 of heroin were recovered
County line drugs gangs groom young people and vulnerable adults to courier drugs from urban centres into more rural areas.
NCA County Lines lead Nikki Holland said the latest police operation “demonstrated the power of a whole-system response to a complex problem that we’re seeing in every area of the UK”.
Ms Holland called on professionals working with people at risk of being involved in county line operations to assist, saying: “It’s the nurses, teachers, social workers, GPs, and anyone who works with young or vulnerable people, that can really help to make a difference.”
Last week three drug dealers from London and Kent who used vulnerable teenagers to traffic crack cocaine and heroin to Portsmouth were jailed in a “landmark case”.
They are believed to have been the first to have been charged with modern slavery offences.
Other recent cases before the courts include two brothers from Birmingham who ran a network supplying heroin and crack cocaine in Hereford, while a police operation on 1 May resulted in 24 arrests and raids in Newcastle, Stevenage, Norwich, Glasgow and London.
Iryna Pona, policy manager at the Children’s Society, said the charity had heard “shocking stories of children being groomed with money and drugs before the life of glamour they have been promised quickly descends into a nightmare”.
She said while it was good to see police are stepping up their fight against the gangs “too many children exploited through county lines are still… failing to get help from an independent advocate to ensure they are supported as victims”.