Indiana interstates become heroin highways for criminals

Indiana State Police seizes heroin. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Although authorities say drug traffickers use the skies, railroads, and even the mail to bring their wares to Central Indiana, by far the most common route is over the thousands of miles of interstates in Indiana.

“We’ve got east-west, north-south routes all through the state, so we see drugs and money going here in every direction,” says Master Trooper Brad Smith.

He’s part of an 11-man Indiana State Police Interdiction team tasked with taming the drug trade one traffic stop at a time.

“A good day is when we’re putting evidence in the evidence locker, and people are going to jail,” says Smith.

The interdiction team is coming off what may be its most successful year ever. In 2015, ISP says troopers pulled 82 pounds of heroin, 105 pounds of methamphetamine, 136 pounds of cocaine, and 1,164 pounds of marijuana off the streets.

And they discover it in strange places. Sgt. Todd Wix with the Indiana State Police Drug Enforcement Section keeps some of the more memorable busts in his camera phone library.

“That’s the spoiler of a car,” he explained, swiping through photos on his phone. “Someone split it open, stuffed it with heroin, sealed it back up, and painted over it.  We found 5 pounds of heroin in there.”

Other images show heroin in door panels, meth in moving boxes, audio speakers stuffed with marijuana, and cash hidden in the false floor of a trunk. Wix and Smith say nothing surprises them anymore.

“There’s not a police officer that can say they’ve been a week through their careers and not been lied to by someone at some point,” says Wix.

While all cities and states have their own challenges with illegal drugs, Central Indiana may have more than most due to its geography. It serves as the intersection of several major interstates.

“Call it a victim of being the Crossroads of America,” explains Wix.

He says that between Interstates 70, 74, 65, 69 and the northern Indiana interstates, virtually all of the East-West traffic in the country moves through Indiana at some point.

“Any means to move their product without detection, certainly they’re going to try to utilize,” he says.

Pressed for secrets to a successful stop, the interdiction team declines to divulge details – other than to say they look for things that are ‘off’ and listen closely for lies.

“We’re just out here doing traffic stops and looking for stuff that’s not normal,” explains Smith. “Instead of just writing that ticket, taking it further and trying to figure out if there’s criminal activity involved.”

“Some people might call it the BS meter or something,” says Wix. “When a vehicle goes by or you have it on the side of the road, you’ve got to say, ‘There’s a front bumper and a rear bumper.  Anything in between is in play.'”

And of all the evils the troopers find, Wix and Smith agree heroin is currently the one that troubles and motivates them most.

“I think the prescription drug problem has had a big impact on heroin,” offers Smith. “You’ve got a lot of good kids from good families that are getting messed up in this stuff, and a lot of it stems from the prescription drugs. It’s too expensive once they get addicted, and heroin is much cheaper to maintain that addiction.”

State police are not alone in their interdiction efforts; several Central Indiana police and sheriff’s departments have similar teams. All face the daunting task of staying ahead of drug traffickers and the many ways they try to move their products into and through the community.

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