A HARD hitting campaign has been launched to target recreational drug users ahead of the party season as part of the ongoing fight against drug dealing.

Southend Council and Essex Police have teamed up with the Echo to remind those who may not see themselves as part of the problem that their drug use is just as damaging.

#MerryMuletide is a hard-hitting follow-up campaign to the recent #SeeTheSigns, with a message that alerts recreational drug users to the catastrophic consequences their drug taking is having on the lives of Southend children.

County lines drug dealing is a national issue where criminal gangs are targeting children to move drugs and money in and out of cities and large towns, including Southend.

In order to get drugs - including those used by partygoers - a supply chain of violence, grooming and modern slavery is used by dealers to serve the demand.

In recent months, the Echo has reported how Southend’s children are being targeted right now, purely to move drugs and money through the borough, up and down to London and beyond.

Schoolchildren are being forced to deal class A drugs by gangs.

The council and police are urging members of the public to remove the demand for drug dealers in the area by avoiding using them completely and taking away the market.

Mark Flewitt, councillor for public protection said: “Recreational drug users may not realise the effect their drug-taking has on children.

“They may care about the plastic they use, and how much they recycle. They probably try to buy locally produced products and want British farmers to be paid a fair price for their goods.

“But, if they’re tempted to perk up a Friday night party, many don’t know about the young children forced into working for violent gangs that supply their drugs.

“This campaign is purposefully uncomfortable to look at, but it has to be to get this message across.

“Many of those who take these drugs have no idea about devastating effect they have on the lives of those caught up in the supply chain.”

In October, the Echo spoke exclusively with a parent who had spoken out after discovering her 13-year-old son had been groomed to sell drugs.

The distraught mother said ruthless drugs gangs had targeted her son, knowing he was vulnerable, and encouraged him to sell crack cocaine and heroin.

The following month, a different mother contacted the Echo after her son had also been forced to sell class A drugs while living at the Quantock tower block in Southend.

She had been forced to move out for their own safety after being subject to threats and intimidation.

Community leaders are asking recreational drug users to bear these children in mind when deciding whether to purchase drugs in the run up to Christmas.

Helen Boyd, councillor for children and learning said: “Worse than just being ‘couriers,’ our children are purposefully targeted by criminal gangs.

“They are tricked into carrying small packages, and then opened up to a world of extreme violence and control.

“They are often sent miles from home, made to stay in squalid conditions and even forced to commit acts of violence themselves.

“They are set up on trains to be robbed of the money they’re carrying, so feel indebted to these criminals and unable to leave.

“More and more we are seeing criminal gangs target children across all towns, socio-economic backgrounds, and ages.

“Children as young as 12 years old are being used to traffic drugs around and in and out of our borough.

“It is vital we open our eyes to this grim reality, and work together to protect our children.

“The children targeted are from a variety of backgrounds, and wherever you live or work they could be your family, your neighbour, or your friend.”