AFFLUENT middle class residents who use cocaine at parties do not realise their habits are fuelled by drug gangs exploiting children and vulnerable people, a council meeting heard.

And they are the biggest cause of county lines drug problems in York, according to a probation specialist.

Nicola Stuart, county lines lead at the National Probation Service, warned councillors that “it’s not a matter of if, but when” there is a violent incident involving firearms because of drug dealing in the city.

Speaking at a special joint meeting of City of York Council’s community safety committee and children and communities committee, Ms Stuart said: “I think some of the biggest offending that is never picked up on is middle class cocaine use. Cocaine and crack cocaine use is huge in York.

“It’s almost accepted now as a norm to use cocaine at a party without people realising it’s actually a Class A drug.

“Once you buy a wrap of cocaine, the ripple effect that you’re creating is child sexual exploitation, it’s modern slavery - it is huge.”

She blamed a lack of resources from government for making it difficult to tackle the problem.

And added: “My next concern is not if, but when the next possible violence might involve a firearm. For York and North Yorkshire this would be really concerning, but I think there’s a strong possibility.”

Superintendent Lindsay Butterfield from North Yorkshire Police said the force is working with other organisations to tackle the problem and that protecting children and vulnerable people is “absolutely paramount”.

She added: “County lines is our number one priority for York. We have had some excellent results in some areas, but we are not complacent.”

Cllr Aisling Musson said cocaine users may not realise the damage they are causing. She said: “I think there are people that would buy fish from sustainable sources, that would be vegetarian or vegan - I have known people that refused to eat eggs because that’s exploitative of chickens - and yet would use cocaine or heroin.

“County lines has been in the headlines but I just don’t think that the connection has been made with the amount of people in the city that have disconnected politics from their activities.”

But the council said it is difficult to know how many people are using these drugs casually because they are not attending substance misuse services.

Councillors asked if more could be done to tell people about the impact of their casual drug use.

Cllr Stephen Fenton said: “There’s a sense that this is a victimless crime and it clearly isn’t.

“People are suffering misery and worse through the actions of others, who perhaps don’t appreciate the damage that’s being done.”