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This Christmas consider the supply chain behind recreational “party” drugs

This festive season, agencies that work with children and young people are asking recreational drug takers to stop and think about the supply chain behind their party drugs.

Vulnerable Essex young people are exploited and groomed into transporting drugs across the county in the process known as County Lines. Young people are lured into carrying drugs by the promise of friendship, gifts such as trainers and jewellery, money and even love. They then become trapped in a world of exploitation and violence, with their exploiters controlling them and forcing them to take part in both dangerous and illegal activity.

Party goers who choose to take these drugs are fuelling the drugs market and creating more demand for County Lines. The Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit is working with Essex Police, Southend-on-Sea City Council, Essex County Council and Thurrock Council to raise awareness of the issue among our county’s residents and help them understand the impact recreational drugs can have on the most vulnerable in society.

Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex and Chair of the Violence and Vulnerability Partnership, said: “Our increased focus on drug crime, including targeting exploitation of young people by drug gangs, is bringing results – deaths from drug-related violence have fallen by 60 per cent since 2016.

“But there is still more to do and we will drive down drug driven violence further by tackling organised criminals while protecting our young and vulnerable people from being exploited.”

Councillor Helen Boyd, cabinet member for children’s services, education and learning, Southend City Council said: “Worse than just being ‘couriers,’ local children are purposefully targeted by criminal gangs, tricked into carrying small packages, and then opened up to a world of extreme violence and control. They are often sent miles from home, made to stay in squalid conditions and even forced to commit acts of violence themselves. They are set up on trains to be robbed of the money they’re carrying, so feel indebted to these criminals and unable to leave. More and more we are seeing criminal gangs target children across all areas, socio-economic backgrounds and ages. Children as young as 12 years old are being used to traffic drugs around and in and out of our city.

“It is vital we open our eyes to this grim reality and work together to protect our children. The children targeted are from a variety of backgrounds, and wherever you live or work they could be your family, your neighbour, or your friend’s or colleague’s children. Please think about them if you’re ever tempted to buy drugs.”

The issue doesn’t just affect our urban areas, gangs target young people across Essex who can move about the county unseen by officials and unlikely to be stopped.

Residents can help tackle County Lines by recognising the signs that a young person may be involved. These include:

  • frequently going missing from school, home or care
  • travelling to locations, or being found in areas they have no obvious connections with, including seaside or market towns
  • unwillingness to explain their whereabouts
  • acquiring money, clothes, accessories or mobile phones which they can’t explain
  • receiving excessive texts or phone calls at all hours of the day
  • withdrawing or having sudden changes in personality, behaviour or the language they use
  • having relationships with controlling or older individuals and groups
  • self-harming or having significant changes in mental health

Organisations within the Violence and Vulnerability Partnership will be running #MerryMuletide over social media channels throughout December. The partnership wants to educate residents that what can naively be perceived as “a bit of festive fun” is directly responsible for destroying the lives of children in our county.