ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — First developed to save lives, hold drug dealers accountable and educate the community in 2018, the Monroe County Heroin Task Force has quickly turned into a race in the fight against fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

The specialized team brings agencies and community-driven organizations together to respond to an opioid incident more effectively.

Fentanyl knows no bounds, no age range, no race, no socioeconomic status. It can be deadly to the touch and is rapidly tearing apart families and communities. News 8’s Isabel Garcia spoke with a range of experts taking steps to address the fentanyl epidemic to gain insight into the impact it’s having in our area.

This year to date, 111 people in Monroe County have died from an overdose of some sort. Addiction affects so many of us each day and our greater community. Investigators are now seeing a sharp increase in the synthetic and highly potent opioid of fentanyl, often used as a stand-in for Heroin.

While the drug industry is connected, driven by supply and demand, with crime, understanding how the disease of addiction fuels those actions may help to shed light on more comprehensive ways to better treat and prevent the condition.

Sgt. Phillip Genier and retired investigator Scott McKinney have been on the Task Force since its inception and worked undercover together for years. Sgt. Genier explains there was a major shift in the narcotics world around 2016 and 2017 when products that would typically be Heroin became unidentifiable.

“Fentanyl being 50 times stronger than heroin, the people that were addicted to opioids… there was a lot of fatal overdoses, a lot of non-fatal overdoses,” Sgt. Genier says.

“When you have a dealer sitting next to you and before he puts it into your hand tells you — that’s fire just so you know — what he’s trying to say, he’s trying to say this will kill you. This could kill you,” says Scott McKinney, MCSO retired investigator.

Major Crimes Unit Sgt. Dave Bolton has been with the Sheriff’s Office for more than two decades. He tells me fentanyl itself, which is approved by the FDA, is rather cheap, aiding in the rapid growth of the synthetic opioid…everywhere.

“The user end, the high they get from the fentanyl is supposedly better than the high they would get from Heroin. So now the user is seeking it out. The drug dealer is making more money off of it and so ultimately it becomes the most prevalent drug in our society.”

Sgt. Bolton adds fentanyl is being mixed with not only drugs on the streets, or replacing them altogether, but it’s being made in other forms too. Deputy Mike Favata with the Heroin Task Force.

“It’s extremely dangerous. We have it in pill forms. We’re coming across more and more of your Xanax, Oxy that are stamped; same colors, same size. They look just like the real thing and that’s what you know our kids are getting a hold of,” Deputy Favata explains.

There is a wealth of resources available right now, not only to those seeking help for addiction, but support services, too. Monroe County’s IMPACT team provides 24/7 access to trained professionals for care. Delphi Rise is also a 24/7 walk-in addiction service center.

Click here for part two of News 8’s special report.