Oct. 18 (UPI) -- A nationwide drug sweep in Great Britain has led to the arrests of more than 700 people and the seizure of dozens of weapons and a half-million dollars worth of illicit substances, authorities said.
The National Crime Agency said the raids targeted "county lines" drug networks for a full week. In addition to the arrests, the agency said authorities safeguarded almost another 700 people, rescued 41 victims of human trafficking and dismantled the drug networks "piece by piece" and "hitting them where it hurts."
The British Home Office funded the operation through a national coordination clearinghouse that's tasked with fighting gangs that use children to sell drugs through county lines -- which authorities said is a top law enforcement priority. The National County Lines Coordination Centre launched last year, and in four weeks of efforts has prevented thousands of potential victims from falling prey to drug gangs, the NCA said.
Cocaine, crack and heroin were among the illicit narcotics seized -- and the confiscated weapons include swords, machetes and a crossbow.
"County lines" are mobile phone numbers used strictly for drug orders and are typically run by large gangs that have infiltrated small towns, officials said. In some cases, they noted, traffickers forcibly commandeer residents' homes and force them to run drugs. Younger victims are often put through physical, mental and sexual abuse and are sometimes dispatched to work in another part of the country, investigators said.
"We will not treat the criminals who run these lines just as drug dealers," National Police Chiefs Deputy Assistant Commissioner Duncan Ball said. "We will seek to prosecute them for child trafficking under modern slavery laws to reflect the devastating nature of their exploitation of young and vulnerable people."
Officials said the raids targeted hundreds of British homes that were taken over and forced into drug dealing.