More than 1,000 people have been arrested and an estimated £1.2m worth of drugs seized in a police crackdown on so-called “county lines” gangs.
Young and vulnerable people are used as couriers to move drugs and cash between cities and smaller towns.
Police said raids in the past week, involving all 43 regional forces in England and Wales, had been the most successful of their kind.
During a week-long operation, police forces also shut down about 10% of the phone lines (102) being used for drug dealing.
County lines is the term used to describe criminal gangs who move illegal drugs from big cities to more rural locations and sell them via dedicated mobile phone lines.
It is a “business model” which now dominates the drug trade, according to BBC home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds.
Investigators said restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic and a better understanding of mobile phone data had helped them target the drug dealers operating the lines.
Key to the county lines trade are mobile phone numbers advertised in smaller towns but controlled by gang leaders in cities like London, Birmingham and Liverpool.
The gangs send bulk text messages to customers informing them of what is on offer, with cocaine and heroin the most common drugs for sale.
Gangs then have to transport the drugs to the areas where they are sold, often using young or vulnerable people, who are enticed or threatened into being involved.
The phones used are usually pay-as-you-go, but police are obtaining communications data from network providers and analysing the calls and texts sent and received to work out who controls the line.
Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for county lines, said: “We know now what a county lines phone looks like.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the results of the operation were “hugely impressive” and tackling county lines was a “priority” for the government.
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News – County lines crackdown leads to 1,000 drug arrests