Police say they have put a major dent in the supply chain of drugs to young people in North Devon. A number of raids took place in Barnstaple this morning (Thursday) in the culmination of a four-month investigation to target dealers. So far 21 people have been arrested as part of Operation Barefoot and nine young people have been cautioned for possessing drugs. Todays raids took place at addresses around Barnstaple but lead officer PC James Mallows said the arrests had been made across North Devon. PC Mallows said: We were keen not to criminalise youths and seized the chance to target suppliers, instead of just dealing with the young person and not providing any support or actively pursuing the source of the drugs. North Devon is not suffering with an extensive drug supply issue, but we have taken innovative steps to proactively target an issue which occurs throughout the country.Drugs warrantsToday (Thursday) the Gazette joined policing teams on drug warrants in Barnstaple. Two raids were carried out on properties under the Misuse of Drugs Act with warrants to search for class A and B drugs. At both properties no substances were found but police seized items including drugs paraphernalia. They arrested an 18-year-old woman at one of the properties on suspicion of intent to supply cannabis to young people. She is currently in custody. Police also conducted a search of a flat after detecting a smell of cannabis and a man was arrested on suspicion of possession. Cannabis and cocaine were also seized from the property. A third warrant was conducted at the home of a 17-year-old who was believed to be supplying cannabis. Items were seized from the property and investigations are ongoing.Child exploitationPC Mallows said police had also uncovered a child sexual exploitation angle as part of their investigations into the sale of drugs. He said: We have seen links to those supplying what we already know to be gateway drugs, with forms of exploitation, including potential child sexual exploitation. Tomorrow (Friday) marks National Child Sexual Exploitation Day. Police hope this operation will help them to identify potential young victims at an earlier stage and reduce the risk of future harm.