POLICE are grappling with the speed at which drug gangs in the area are setting up new 'county lines' supply networks, a top officer has said.

Detective chief superintendent Dean Holden, Cumbria Police's head of crime, hailed the number of drug gangs put behind bars last year - but said new operations were springing up like 'whack-a-mole games'.

He described the police's efforts to reduce the demand for drugs in the area and stop vulnerable people being exploited in the drug trade.

Last year saw several drug kingpins and street dealers jailed for their part in organised drug conspiracies operating in Barrow.

But Det Chief Supt. Holden said police would continue to pursue those who involved in peddling misery on the streets, and try to stem the demand from drug users.

The phrase 'county lines' refers to dedicated phone lines being used to sell drugs, with substances - and people - often transported from cities such as Liverpool and Manchester to places like Cumbria.

"I think we have been successful in disrupting a lot and we've had a lot of good convictions," Det Chief Supt. Holden said.

"But one of our issues is the speed at which people set up new lines.

"It's like these whack-a-mole games at Blackpool - as soon as we hit one there are others popping up.

"And that's because the demand is there."

The officer described demand as a 'social care issue', saying police were working with other agencies to prevent people becoming involved in drug-taking.

"One thing we are toiling with is reducing the demand for drugs," he said.

He said police had been more able to track down members of drugs gangs because of an increase in cooperation with forces including Merseyside Police in recent years.

Among those put behind bars in 2021 were a Merseyside drug gang who were jailed for more than 40 years combined.

Christopher Williams, 32, of Douglas Close in Old Swan was found to have been the brains behind the drug conspiracy that flooded the streets of Cumbria with heroin and crack cocaine.