A CRIME commissioner has called for safeguarding agencies to work together to discover the true extent of drug use by young people, less than two weeks after police issued a drugs warning following the death of a 14-year-old girl.

North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan said she believed drug-taking by children remained a hidden problem across the county, amid concerns young people are being coerced into dealing by County Lines gangs based in places such as Middlesbrough and Manchester.

She also poured cold water on figures from a national investigation into drugs on school premises, which had appeared to suggest the county was bucking a national trend of an increase in incidents of illegal drugs being seized from pupils.

Mrs Mulligan highlighted her concerns as friends continued to pay tributes to the schoolgirl who died on May 20 after a party in Scarborough, which also saw a 13-year-old girl treated in hospital.

North Yorkshire Police warned people not to take ecstasy and arrested two teenage boys on suspicion of the supply of Class A drugs. Last month the force warned parents of an increase in availability of so-called edibles – sweets laced with illegal drugs such as cannabis and MDMA, a trend which had been flagged-up as a concern through Multi Agency Child Exploitation meetings.

There were more than 2,600 cases involving drugs on school grounds reported to police in England and Wales between 2016 and 2019, an increase of 27.5 per cent. However, North Yorkshire saw the number of crimes where drugs were seized at a school remain at under 15 a year over the period, except for 2018, which saw 20 incidents.

In March, staff at Ryedale School said they have taken “appropriate action” after a group of students brought drugs into school, passed them to other students and that a small number had been consumed on the school site.

The most recent Growing Up In North Yorkshire survey by the county council found 11 per cent of pupils in the last year of primary school were ‘fairly sure’ or ‘certain’ they knew someone who uses drugs.

Mrs Mulligan, who was first elected as the county’s commissioner in November 2012, said she did not believe the figures “tell the true picture of drugs and young people in North Yorkshire”.

She said drug-taking among children in North Yorkshire was a hidden problem that only makes the headlines when individual tragedies brought them to the surface.  

The commissioner added: “We know anecdotally that there is a real challenge with the availability of illegal substances, their use by children across the county and the limited resources authorities have to address this.

“But knowing anecdotally is not good enough, we need to know definitively and that is what I have been calling for with the government and partners here in North Yorkshire.”

Mrs Mulligan said the coronavirus crisis had brought children and drug-taking into an even starker focus.

She said: “We have vulnerable children who have not been in school, who have been unsupported and who have been under the radar - hidden from view in homes and communities which are not always safe. That is a huge concern and I am extremely worried about the impact both now and for the future on these children’s lives.

“We owe it to them to discover what the true extent of drugs use by young people in North Yorkshire is and it’s only by learning that will we know what is needed and how we can provide that. I call for everyone involved in safeguarding children to come together to work on this issue.”