County lines is when criminals from larger cities expand their drug networks to other areas of the country – usually rural and suburban areas.
The crime is called county lines because dealers use dedicated mobile phone ‘lines’ to supply drugs. These criminals often exploit vulnerable adults to move and store drugs and money and regularly use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons.
County lines activity can still be exploitation even if it appears consensual. It can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and is often accompanied by violence or threats of violence.
Vulnerable adults who use drugs, are in financial difficulty or have mental health problems are at greatest risk of being exploited by county lines gangs. These adults are groomed through offers of ‘free’ drugs, causing them to accumulate debts which can only be paid off by participating in county lines activities (also known as debt bondage).
Sometimes drug dealers will take over the home of a vulnerable person – this is known as cuckooing.