County lines (drug trafficking)

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In the United Kingdom, the term county lines is a neologism referring to the practice of trafficking drugs into rural areas. In 2018, National Crime Agency figures showed there were 1,500 drug trafficking routes of this sort in the United Kingdom.[1] Traffickers recruit vulnerable children, including children in pupil referral units who have been excluded from school, as drug dealers.[2] Some young people are recruited via "debt bondage", whereby they enter county lines to pay off drug debts.[3] Others enter county lines of their own volition, owing to boredom and a lack of legitimate opportunity in marginalized communities.[4] The practice is also known by those involved as "going country" or "out there".[5] It is facilitated via dedicated mobile phone lines and apps.[6]

The Children's Society, a British charity, criticises an inconsistent approach by professionals working with children, saying while some police or social workers do view the practice as child exploitation, others treat vulnerable young people as criminals.[7]

In 2018, a drug dealer was convicted of offences under the Modern Slavery Act relating to "county lines" activities.[8]

A 2019 estimate by the National Crime Agency estimated the total turnover of all county lines activities throughout the UK as roughly £500 million.[9]


  1. ^ McGoogan, Cara (1 October 2018). "Airbnb and Uber urged to act on teenage drug mules". the Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  2. ^ Rawlinson, Kevin (28 September 2018). "'County lines' drug gangs recruit excluded schoolchildren – report". the Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  3. ^ Robinson, Grace; McLean, Robert; Densley, James (19 October 2018). "Working County Lines: Child Criminal Exploitation and Illicit Drug Dealing in Glasgow and Merseyside" (PDF). International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology: 0306624X1880674. doi:10.1177/0306624x18806742. ISSN 0306-624X. PMID 30338710.
  4. ^ Robinson, Grace; Densley, James; McLean, Robert (2018). "County lines: the dark realities of life for teenage drug runners". The Conversation. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  5. ^ "What It's Really Like 'Going Country'". Vice. 28 November 2017. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  6. ^ Storrod, Michelle L.; Densley, James A. (28 November 2016). "'Going viral' and 'Going country': the expressive and instrumental activities of street gangs on social media". Journal of Youth Studies. 20 (6): 677–696. doi:10.1080/13676261.2016.1260694. ISSN 1367-6261.
  7. ^ "What is county lines?". the Children's Society. 8 March 2018. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  8. ^ "Drug dealer who trafficked children jailed". BBC News. 4 October 2018.
  9. ^ correspondent, Jamie Grierson Home affairs (29 January 2019). "'County lines': huge scale of £500m drug industry revealed". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 29 January 2019.

See also[edit]