WARNINGS are being issued over a new scourge of drug dealers.

They use weapons and intimidation to take over homes which they then use to deal heroin and crack cocaine.

Twenty drug dens connected with the “county lines” practice – which relates to London drug gangs expanding outside their usual territory – have been closed in Brighton and Hove in the last two years.

But police and councillors are still working closely to disrupt what they see as a growing problem.

A report on the agenda for next Monday’s meeting of the neighbourhoods committee warns: “County lines is a major cross cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, criminal child exploitation, modern slavery and missing persons.”

County lines is the police term used to describe urban gangs supplying drugs to towns across the country.

Gangs establish a base, typically by taking over the homes of vulnerable adults by force or coercion, in a practice known as “cuckooing”.

Gangs also often lure children and vulnerable people into moving drugs and money by promising gifts or “protection2 for their families.

In the last year Sussex Police have made 76 arrests for drug supply offences and have disrupted 14 county lines operations.

But they warn demand in the city, including among “non-chaotic” middle-class drug users, means new dealers quickly take the place of those arrested.

Councillor Emma Daniel, chairwoman of the neighbourhoods committee said she had lost sleep over the issue and called on parents to be hyper-vigilant.

She said: ““I have genuinely been losing sleep over this issue. This is a really scary activity and I want mothers and father to know and be on the look-out.

“County lines is a particularly nasty crime as it preys on the young and vulnerable. The gangs operate here due to the high demand for drugs, and we’ve seen the significant impact it and the associated anti-social behaviour has on neighbourhoods.”

“Some of the personal stories that have come to my door about this have been heart-breaking and I don’t want anyone else to suffer through ignorance.

She added: “Please also report any suspicions you have about a property.

“Effective action to tackle the problems relies on early reporting and solid evidence and we will work across services to tackle the problem as soon as we can.”

Chief Inspector Chris Veale of Sussex Police said: “We have robust working practices in the city for dealing with cuckooed homes, including gathering intelligence, executing drugs warrants, closing premises quickly using Anti Social Behaviour Act powers, supporting vulnerable and displaced residents and taking direct action against perpetrators of crime.”

Police ask that anyone with suspicions or information about drug dealing contact them at any time online at www.sussex.police.uk or by calling 101, quoting Project Preclude.