A senior police officer has renewed calls for forces to focus on their drugs markets after a major new report exposed the scale of the problem in his force area.
The multi-agency piece of work led by Bedfordshire Police identified 34,000 drug users in the county, equivalent to 9 per cent of 18 to 59-year-olds.
The force’s new drugs market profile also estimates that up to £53.8 million is spent on cocaine in the county every year, with a further £59 million spent on cannabis.
The findings come from Bedfordshire Police’s drugs market profile, where the force worked with more than 100 different partners to establish the scale of the drug threat in its local area.
The piece of work was commissioned by Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Lay, head of intelligence, serious and organised crime and cyber crime at Bedfordshire Police.
He is also president of the Drug Expert Witness and Valuation Association, and chairman of the national drugs tactical working group.
Mr Lay said: “The threat posed by the supply and use of drugs has never been so clearly or frequently demonstrated.Cash rich drug markets exist not only in our urban towns, but they have also permeated our rural communities.”
The most recognised changes to the drugs market in Bedfordshire over recent years by those involved in the survey were the increase in serious violence and involvement of younger people.
Bedfordshire Police received 115 replies from different agencies as part of the profile, from different areas of local authorities and the health service through to schools and the voluntary sector.
Of these, 46per cent said the rise of ‘county lines’ had made access to drugs easier, while 44 per cent said gang culture was a driver for people to keep taking drugs. Of those working in rural communities, 80 per cent said that drugs were available 24/7.
Cannabis was described as ‘readily available’ by 86 per cent of those that contributed to the profile. The figure was 83 per cent for cocaine, 7 7 per cent for crack cocaine, 74 per cent for heroin, 47 per cent for illicit pharmaceuticals and 46per cent for novel psychoactive substances (NPS).
The report also highlighted links between the drugs market and the exploitation of children and vulnerable people, the strong link between mental health issues and drugs misuse, and trends including the purchase of drugs on the dark web.
Bedfordshire Police is now using the findings from the report alongside £75,000 of funding from the Home Office for Heroin and Crack Action Areas, to review how agencies across the county can betterwork together to address issues around drugs.