North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan said there had been an alarming rise in drug-related concerns ahead of the death of 15-year-old Leah Heyes in Northallerton.
A meeting of the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Panel was told girls as young as 13 were being drawn into drugs and over the past few years there had been a significant rise in drugs use and dealing “in places you wouldn’t think”, such as in villages on the edge of towns.
Will Naylor, the deputy commissioner, said: “We think the scale is probably bigger than is understood currently by the police.”
Mrs Mulligan issued her concerns to the panel after Northallerton councillor Peter Wilkinson asked the commissioner if she believed North Yorkshire Police were being successful in tackling drug dealing in the county and whether County Lines drug dealing was a major issue.
Mrs Mulligan said: “I am, and the chief constable is extremely concerned about drugs in the county at the moment. Extremely concerned.
“We have delivered a series of public surgeries and have never seen so many members of the public coming in with drugs concerns. I think it is one of the biggest issues we have got in the county at the minute.”
When asked if she believed drug use was increasing, Mrs Mulligan said: “Yes. I’ve got two teenage daughters and they tell me what they see in Skipton. It’s pretty horrific.”
The meeting at County Hall in Northallerton heard that while the commissioner believed the North Yorkshire force was doing “a pretty good job” in tackling the drug trade, rooting out the criminals was difficult as many came from metropolitan areas such as Merseyside and West Yorkshire.
Mrs Mulligan said: “It is incumbent upon those host forces to take significant action to deal with those criminals that are using their areas as the base for their activities and exploiting a whole range of different people as they pursue their business.
“We have seen a whole range of nasty tactics being used around things called cuckooing, exploiting young people to be mules for drugs, we’ve seen violence on the streets because we’ve got external gangs coming in fighting with local drug dealers, often with knives, we’ve had some stabbings in relation to this. It is an area of major concern.”
The meeting heard forces in rural areas such as North Yorkshire were missing out on Government funding to tackle violent crime due to it being linked to cases dealt with by accident and emergency units, and many serious cases in North Yorkshire went to hospitals in the Cleveland and West Yorkshire forces areas.
Mrs Mulligan added the issue was also being exacerbated by people buying cocaine for social use at dinner parties, and urged those that did to consider the harm and violence that had gone into supplying the drug.
After the meeting, Cllr Wilkinson said: “I was concerned to learn how bad the drug problem has become in North Yorkshire and how young some of the children taking drugs were.”