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Drugs - Exploitation of Young People

Information on this page has been re-produced from the Cambridgeshire Constabulary website.

Need help - contact SafeCall

Drug Networking - County Lines

Drug networking, also known as county lines, involves organised crime groups extending their drug dealing business from big cities into new areas.

These groups often use a phone number, known as a 'drugs line', to contact their customers and sell illegal drugs.

Runners (Distributing the drugs)

Drug dealing groups often use young people to deliver their drugs, by paying them or by forcing them through violence and grooming.

These young people, known as 'runners', are often male and aged between 12 and 20. Young people then travel between cities and other areas to deliver drugs and collect cash on behalf of the dealers.

In most cases, those delivering drugs across the country are being forced to do so by the dealer. 

Targeting Young People

Members of organised crime groups target vulnerable people to handle drugs for them, to take away the risk of getting caught with drugs themselves. The targeted vulnerable drug transporters are often;

  • children in care
  • children absent from school
  • children missing from home
  • single parents on low incomes.

The organised crime groups are known to use violence and manipulation against these vulnerable people. Human trafficking forms another part of this type of crime as dealers often force young and vulnerable people into storing and supplying drugs.

They are also usually forced to swallow drugs in order to avoid police finding them.

Recognising drug networking

Would you recognise if drug dealing was happening where you live or work in Cambridgeshire? Would you know if someone was being used as a drugs mule by a drug gang? It's important to spot the signs of drug activity and how to report to the police.

Suspected drug dealing from a house

Have you noticed more people living at an address of a vulnerable person? Drug dealers often take over the home, make them sell drugs and use the home as a place for others to take drugs. Unusual activity could include;

  • lots of different people coming and going from an address
  • people coming and going at odd times of the day and night
  • strange smells coming from the property
  • windows covered or curtains closed all the time
  • cars pulling up to or near the house for a short period of time.

If you have noticed any of this type of unusual activity and suspect drug dealing at a house in your area, you should report this to the Police online or call them on 101.

Handling mobile phones or lots of cash

You may not see drug runners with any drugs but you may see the signs of drug dealing such as large amounts of cash or lots of mobile phones - usually cheap pay-as-you-go types. 

The signs of a runner or drug dealer can include;

  • someone having more cash, clothing or phones than normal
  • talk of gang names in the area
  • someone using nicknames when speaking about others.

These signs are often a good indicator that someone is involved in county lines drug crime.


If you are a young person affected by drug networking or know someone who is/has been affected by drug networking SafeCall can offer help and support.

SafeCall is a scheduled telephone call to young people who are referred to the project by professionals working with them. They will be offered a non-judgemental, safe space to talk about their experiences in confidence. They will be reassured that there is a way out and given support them to explore their choices, and help them formulate a safety plan.

The SafeCall service will also reach out to the young person's parent or carer, offering them a chance to debrief, access emotional support and be guided on how to keep their family safe in the future.

Email: or call 0208 392 5710

If the young person does not want to access this service, please sign post the child to Missing People’s runaway helpline website for more information on support they can access.

Download a pdf copy of the SafeCall Guide for more information.


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