The National Crime Agency says they are seeing increases in the “scale and scope of the threat” from county lines.
County lines is where urban drug gangs expand their markets for crack cocaine and heroin into smaller towns.
They often exploit teenagers as drug runners and vulnerable addicts to provide flats to deal from – a process called cuckooing.
Criminal gangs are targeting children in care, some as young as 12, in towns and cities many miles from home – the phenomenon known as county lines.
Police say they are struggling to deal with the scale of the problem.
BBC News heard from an officer who said he didn’t arrest for class A drug possession in order to safeguard vulnerable children faster.
Our special correspondent Ed Thomas reports.
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