Lawmakers: I-81 Eyed as Major Drug Trafficking Route

Aug 23, 2015

Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Since 1986, legislators from the Eastern Panhandle have been meeting with their fellow lawmakers from what they call the quad-state region - Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania - to discuss issues as well as accomplishments they share along the interstate 81 corridor. This year, the group focused on drug trafficking and what the four states can do to combat the problem.

Almost two-dozen legislators hailing from the four states met Friday to discuss the issues and achievements they share because of the closeness of their districts. They all live within minutes of each other thanks to interstate 81, which quickly connects the quad-state region.

The legislators invited many officials from their respective communities to speak about current and future projects the states are working on – from economic development to casino gaming to bridge building – all projects that connect the four states in some way. But there was one discussion that lasted longer than any other – drug trafficking.

In the Eastern Panhandle, Martinsburg is the leader in heroin overdoses. In fact, Berkeley County has the second highest number of heroin related deaths in the state just following Cabell County. Much of the heroin in the Eastern Panhandle comes down from Baltimore, and Maryland officials are well aware.

Lieutenant Michael Fluharty is commander of the Maryland State Police unit in Hagerstown. He and his fellow officers cover about thirteen miles along interstate 81, which he claims is one of the worst areas for heroin trafficking.

“Every trooper in, on the road in Maryland right now carries the Narcan that everybody’s speaking of. Just last night, we had an administration by a trooper to save somebody’s life. Just last week, one of my troopers, pulls to what he thinks is a disabled vehicle on the road, comes to find a young lady who’s decided that she wants to overdose on what we believe heroin – some kind of opioid drug,” Fluharty explained.

Fluharty says what would prevent the most drug trafficking in the region is if the data collected by each of the four states’ troopers would be shared through a database.

“That’d be an excellent opportunity for us as a group, as a quad-state to share information, so if you’re getting the southbound traffic, I’m getting the northbound, and we can share this information it’s going to help us all. It’s a partnership between obviously legislators to support law enforcement, law enforcement to get the information, the statistics needed, so we can get the help and the tool we need.”

Republican Delegate Paul Espinosa of Jefferson County says having quad-state meetings every year are important to combat the drug problem and others faced in the Eastern Panhandle.

“A lot of the concerns that we have here in eastern West Virginia, very similar to some of our surrounding jurisdictions in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia," Espinosa noted, "so it really provides an opportunity to not only discuss common concerns but also to hear about some of the approaches that our colleagues in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are taking to address those issues.”

Delegate John Overington, a Republican from Berkeley County, hosted this year’s Quad-State Legislative Conference, and he says working together with the other states should be a no-brainer.

“We have constituents that live in one area, that work in another area, and shop in a third state, so the area is sort of connected," Overington said, "and I-81 is that connecting factor that is good in terms of jobs and economic development. It’s sort of a negative in terms of heroin distribution.”

The closeness of the states makes it easy for drug dealers to ship their drugs from one state to another, but Overington, and his fellow lawmakers from all four states, are hopeful they can work together to find a solution.