FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Local officials say fentanyl has become the new addictive and deadly drug in the Central Valley.

Detectives say fentanyl in the valley is here to stay and that it could soon become more popular than heroin in 5 to 10 years.

They say now it’s about stopping the momentum and educating our youth.

“What it all comes down to is greed and making money, and the cartels are making money off the backs of our kids dying and overdosing,” explained Detective Dean Cardinale.

Cardinale is on Fresno’s Fentanyl Overdose Resolution Team (FORT).

He’s one of 10 officers undercover trying to track down where the fentanyl and laced drugs are coming from.

“I get calls all time of the day and night and once we get those calls, we get a team together and go out to the house, the hospital, wherever the victim might be and we start the case right from there,” explained Cardinale.

FORM was formed in 2020 after the number of overdoses skyrocketed between the ages of 14 and 21 years old.

“We were responding out to like two to four overdoses a week, with kids between that age group,” Cardinale said.

He says now they’re seeing fentanyl in everything.

“In cocaine, in meth, we’ve had some cases here in the United States it was laced with marijuana,” said Cardinale.

Detective Cardinale says if you don’t die the first time, the drug is highly addictive.

His team responded to 84 fentanyl overdoses in 2020, 34 of which resulted in death in Fresno.

“And I’m sure we’re going to surpass that in 2022 because of the amount of fentanyl that’s coming into Fresno,” said Cardinale.

At the beginning of April, 18 people were charged in Fresno County after a string of overdoses involving fentanyl and methamphetamine trafficking.

But Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp says the penalities for most illegal substances in California have been reduced down to misdemeanors.

That’s why the district attorney’s office is working hard with its federal and local partners.

“We really work collaboratively to not only try to prosecute some of these cases federally, where we really can get some serious sentences for the people who are dealing these drugs, but we’re also very heavily engaged in an education and awareness campaign,” explained Smittcamp.

A campaign in schools, on billboards, and even in hospitals across the valley, bringing awareness to the dangers of this silent killer.

“The harder it is, the harder I work,” said Smittcamp. “Nobody takes an M30 pill or a Xanax pill that could potentially be laced with fentanyl to die, they just want to feed their addiction.”

And as fentanyl takes over the younger population, social media has played a role in helping distribute it in and out of schools.

“As a county prosecutor, as a state prosecutor, I don’t have a lot of tools. You have to compile a tremendous amount of evidence to prove the person who sold them engaged in a poisoning act, or had an intentional disregard for human life and those are high standards to achieve,” Smittcamp said.

FORT has made about 24 arrests since 2020, but detective Cardinale says fentanyl is not slowing down.

The district attorney’s office says it’s now working on trying to get Narcan in schools, so school nurses will be able to respond to a situation if a child overdoses.