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HomeWorldUniversity students are hidden targets of county lines drug trade - new...

University students are hidden targets of county lines drug trade – new report GTN News

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For young adults, university is a formative period: their first time away from home, budgeting their money and going to pubs and nightclubs. For many, it will also be the first time they try drugs, and as our new report shows, they will be exploited by drug dealers across county lines.

County lines are a model of drug distribution that involves transporting and trading illegal drugs from one part of the country to another, and selling them through designated phone lines. It is a form of exploitation most often associated with children and vulnerable adults, but anyone can be a victim.

We investigated the prevalence of drug trafficking across county lines targeting university students, who are known to have increased drug exposure, but often talk about organized crime and county lines. They are ignored in conversation.

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In March 2022, we sent Freedom of Information requests to 127 UK universities inquiring about county lines and drug incidents among their students. From the 113 responses we received, we learned that there have been approximately 14,000 drug-related incidents on university campuses and in student housing since the 2016-17 academic year. About 300 of them are specifically related to drug distribution.

Students can be exploited to transport drugs (for which commuting to and from university provides an ideal cover story). They may also have student housing “shells”, which are used as a base to store and sell drugs.

Fifty universities had no data across county lines, and 44 said they had no recorded cases. However, data from seven universities revealed that since 2017, 109 university students across county lines have been involved, either as victims or perpetrators, at these institutions alone.

We also conducted a student survey of 140 students. The responses, combined with the universities’ data (or lack thereof) suggest that the prevalence of abuse across county lines on campuses may be higher than universities are aware.

Up to a third of students witnessed common symptoms of county lines among their fellow students, such as sudden unexplained increases in money (27%) and luxury goods (24%), owning multiple “burner” phones (29%). , fear of specific people (22%) and unexplained injuries (25%).

They also found that non-students often visit student residences at unscheduled times (34%) or visit student residences unofficially (22%). About one in ten respondents said they saw other students carrying weapons or keeping them at home.

Why are students the target?

There are several reasons why county lines criminals might want to target students. For starters, the student population has a huge drug market.

A 2018 report by the Drug Law Charity Release and the National Union of Students found that 56% of university students had taken drugs. It makes sense that County Lines Group would want to capitalize on this market.

In past years, posts on social media have sparked fears of dealers advertising business cards and drug samples to students during Freshers’ Week.

Students can also be targeted online. Our survey found that 60% of students had seen drug advertising on Snapchat, with others saying they had seen it on Instagram (35%) or other social media (38%).

Students also reported that they have seen non-students join and post in group chats specifically for students. While this can be for a variety of purposes, criminals across county lines have been known to target and infiltrate group chats in areas where they want to ply their trade.

Research shows that the student drug market is a hybrid of the social supply of buying from traditional dealers and sharing drugs among friends. Students are not only potential customers but also potential suppliers. More than 40% of our survey respondents said they had seen students selling drugs to their peers.

A young man is sitting on his bed looking at a mobile phone.
Phone lines and social media are a way for organized crime groups to exploit young people for the drug trade.
Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

Our survey found that three in ten students or non-students were approached to buy drugs, and one in ten were approached by students or non-students to sell drugs. . However, students were more likely to be offered free drugs by other students (53%) than non-students (32%).

Although the social sharing of drugs is not uncommon, providing drugs for free can also be part of the exploitation process, after which victims are told that they must pay the costs. Furthermore, some victims of exploitation may be forced to recruit and exploit their partners.

All of this goes to show why students are also valuable targets for organized crime groups, as they can easily access and mingle with other students to sell drugs.

Student safety

County lines groups can be quick to adopt policing responses. As children are increasingly identified as victims, students may be the next best population to target.



Read more: How gangs are exploiting children to do dirty work


Simply exposing university students to drugs and dealers can increase their risk of exploitation across county lines, regardless of whether they themselves use drugs or not. This risk can be exacerbated by vulnerabilities such as financial problems and poor mental health.

University students are adults, and children don’t have the same rules to protect them. In UK law, the transition from childhood to adulthood is sudden, on the day a young person turns 18. However, the developmental transition from childhood to adulthood does not happen overnight.

Recognizing the dangers of drug use and supply is the first step to keeping students safe. When students head to university, many for the first time, they must be aware of how they can be exploited across county lines.


For more information about county lines, and what to do if you’re concerned, visit Crimestoppers.

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