Over 5,000 children have been arrested for drug offences over the last four years, ITV News Investigations Correspondent Daniel Hewitt reports.
Children as young as nine years old are being arrested for dealing drugs in the UK, as police forces and charities warn the cost-of-living crisis could see more young people targeted by criminal gangs.
An ITV News investigation has found 5,425 children under 16 have been arrested for drug offences since 2018.
A Freedom of Information request to police forces in England and Wales also revealed some of the shocking ways that children were getting exploited by criminals, including:
a nine-year-old arrested in Derbyshire for drug dealing.
a 13-year-old in West Yorkshire arrested for supplying heroin and crack cocaine.
a 14-year-old in Liverpool arrested for producing their own cannabis.
a 15-year-old child in North Wales arrested for dealing heroin.
The nine-year-old child picked up by Derbyshire Police was not charged, as children under 10 cannot be charged with a criminal offence.
Police forces and charities are warning the problem could get much worse due to the cost-of-living crisis.
"The cost-of-living crisis is certainly a factor in terms of families from deprived areas," said DCI Jess Milne, who leads Thames Valley Police's new drugs taskforce.
She added: "If you are being offered large amounts of money so that you can buy expensive trainers and you can buy things you wouldn't ordinarily get access to then I can see how that would affect their ability to become involved in drug supply."Chante McKoy is an outreach worker for the St Giles Trust. She helps find children targeted by gangs who take them from London to as far as Wales and Scotland to deal drugs.
She says the poor economic picture already playing a role.
She added: "The cost of living is definitely having an impact on the amount of children going missing," she said."They feel responsible helping with household bills; helping put food on the table."
ITV News Investigations Correspondent Daniel Hewitt explains how police have responded this type of crime
In Milton Keynes, Sundus Ali was only 15 when she was targeted by a group of men on social media who exploited and used her to carry out crimes on their behalf.
"They glamourised it," she told us.
"They made it as if it was a money-making opportunity. It was more to target youngers and suck them into the lifestyle and once they're in it's hard to get out."
Now 18 years old, Sundus has been supported by SOFEA, a social enterprise which looks to provide job prospects for vulnerable young people.
Many of those using the service were identified as being at risk of being pulled into a life of crime.
ITV News contacted the UK's 46 police forces as part of the investigation. 38 responded to our Freedom of Information request. Drug arrests by the Metropolitan Police accounted for almost half of all arrests since 2018, with 2493.
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