The Drug Pipeline of Interstate 95

Interstate 95 is a 1,924-mile highway, starting in Miami and ending in Houlton, Maine at the Canadian border.  It then resumes in the Canadian province of New Brunswick as New Brunswick Route 95.

Travelling north from Miami, Interstate 95 is a direct pipeline to major cities in the northeast such as Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.  Altogether, It traverses 15 different US states.

 

Origins

Miami skyline. Image via Discotech

The United States went through a cocaine epidemic in the 1980s and early 1990s. Much of the cocaine came from  the Caribbean, and there was a massive amount of it.  The massive amount meant it was a relatively cheap fix at the time.

Soon, United States dealers caught on.  The nearest port to the Carribean was Miami–a perfect landing spot for boat runners back and forth to the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, and other tropical locales.

Norman’s Cay in the Bahamas, in particular, was chosen by the Colombian cartel as a transfer point–a short 250-mile trek to Miami.

From there, Interstate 95 was an easy conduit from Miami to the mid-Atlantic region’s cities of Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia; as well as to New York, and to New England and its hub of Boston.

Key Cities along Interstate 95:
○ Florida: Miami, Jacksonville
○ Georgia: Savannah, Atlanta (via Interstate 16)
○ South Carolina: Charleston, Columbia (via Interstate 26)
○ North Carolina: Raleigh (via Interstate 40)
○ Virginia: Richmond, Norfolk/Virginia Beach/Newport News (via Interstate 64)
○ Washington DC (via interstate spurs 295, 395, and 695) (Interstate 95 runs roughly a 10 mile radius from Washington’s center along Interstate 495)
○ Maryland: Baltimore
○ Delaware: Wilmington
○ Pennsylvania: Philadelphia
○ New Jersey: Trenton, Newark, Jersey City, Atlantic City (via Interstate 76 and Atlantic City Expressway)
○ New York: New York City (direct access to Upper Manhattan and The Bronx) 
○ Connecticut: New Haven, Hartford (via Interstate 91)
○ Rhode Island: Providence
○ Massachusetts: Boston (via Interstate 93) (Interstate 95 runs roughly a 10 mile radius from Boston’s city center)
○ New Hampshire: Portsmouth
○ Maine: Portland, Augusta

 

Fallout

During the 1980s,  the cocaine epidemic was most damaging to the inner cities of major mid-Atlantic and northeastern cities.  Crime rates spiked as users got hooked and needed more and more money to pay dealers for their drug.

The southeast’s largest city of Atlanta was also hit hard by this epidemic with a hefty spike in crime and deaths due to overdose.  Atlanta was easily accessible to Miami via Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 75.  As a hub of the southeastern United States, Atlanta dealers could ship the drugs to smaller cities in the southeast.

The Authorities are Watching

In the 1980s, five of the nation’s 20 most populated cities were along this route.

Law enforcement in states along the stretch of Interstate 95 were becoming increasingly aware of the highway’s use for shipment of drugs.

The chances of dealers getting through unscathed were very good, as long as no red flags were triggered.  Those who didn’t make it through were often careless in one way or another.

One former Florida State Trooper, Robert Vogel, made 130 arrests and seized $1 billion worth of crack cocaine by 1987, when he left the Florida Highway Patrol.  He later went on to become Sheriff of Volusia County, Florida.

Red flags for suspicion included:

  • Large sedans.  These cars had plenty of storage for drugs.  Trunk, engine compartment, back seats, and door panels were all used for storage.  Blue and brown colors were favorites, as they blended in.
  • Windows cracked or opened in extreme or inclement weather conditions.  This was to ventilate the car against strong odors.
  • Multiple air freshners, also to guard against odor.
  • Consistent maintenance at or just below the speed limit.
  • Erratic driving, excessive speed, weaving in or out of lanes.
  • Extreme change in driving style, once law enforcement is noticed.
  • Vehicles that appear to be back-heavy, indicative of a large amount of weight in the trunk.

Once pulled over, drivers themselves exhibited their own red flags, such as heavy breathing, sweating, nervousness, and a lack of eye contact.

Post 1980s

Crime as a result of the cocaine trade dipped back below 1980s levels by 2000.  Other alternatives were available to those wanting their fix.

Going into the 1990s, heroin and marijuana trade coming up from Miami became more and more prevalent.

Technology also improved in the 1990s.

Mules–those running drugs in their vehicles–were also getting more wise in their storage techniques.  They were using hydraulic presses to compact their drugs so more could be carried.  Dashboards on cars were being raised.  Rear bumpers were being extended outward, another increase in storage space.

Today

Nevertheless, in 2017 Interstate 95 continues to be a key pathway for the drug trade to the northeast, even among Mexican cartels.

As the Texas border crossings are becoming more heavily guarded because of an improved American economy, drugs are shifting away from Texas and back towards Miami and the southeast.

Heroin has become the drug of choice in the northeast this decade.

However, the population of the nation has shifted more to the south and west.  Atlanta is increasingly serving as a hub with several major interstates running through town.  Interstates 75, 85, and 20 thoroughly cover the southeast, with Interstate 20 going out west.

But make no mistake.  Interstate 95 is the pioneer highway for drug traffic, and will continue that way.  The drugs change, the methods change, but through over 40 years, Interstate 95 has served as the common denominator.

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