Gates Police Chief James Van Brederode said in his 32-year law enforcement career, he's never seen a bigger problem facing his community than the heroin epidemic.
In 2016, police in Gates investigated more than 100 heroin-related deaths, more than the number of people who died in homicides or DWI accidents.
"People selling this heroin are the agents of death. The people selling it, they know this stuff is poison and they are part of the problem with this epidemic."
Van Brederode said investigators don't often have enough evidence to trace a fatal overdose to the suspected dealer who sold the drugs, but Gates police did make an arrest Saturday in connection with the death of 41-year old Tara Miles, whose body was found in her home Friday after she took a lethal dose of heroin.
"This is deadly stuff that is being sold on the streets,” Van Brederode said. “It is poison. If you don't get your loved ones into some sort of treatment, they will die."
37-year old Dominic Hobbs has been charged with criminally negligent homicide and several other charges. Van Brederode said Hobbs is also a suspect in a non-fatal overdose recently in another town, a case being investigated by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.
The herion Hobbs allegedly sold to Miles was in yellow wax packages, which police say is unusual. They want the public to know what the packages look like in case they contain dangerous amounts of heroin, or fentanyl-laced heroin. Van Brederode said it is not known if the heroin that led to Miles’ overdose did contain fentanyl. Lab results often take several weeks.
Investigators were able to track down another alleged dealer who they say also sold drugs to Miles. 48-year old Stanley Grant of Rochester faces several charges, including criminal sale and possession of a controlled substance.
At the news conference Wednesday announcing the arrests, State Senator Joe Robach said he was issuing a clarion call to the public and to members of the state Assembly to support legislation that would that allow law enforcement to charge a drug dealer with murder if a person overdoses on heroin or other opioid.
Robach said the measure, which has passed in the Senate for two consecutive years, would bring New York State laws into line with federal statutes. Second degree murder, a class A-1 felony, carries a penalty of 15 to 25 years in prison. Criminally negligent homicide, the charge Hobbs is facing, is a class E felony, with a maximum 4 prison sentence and a fine.
Robach said the heroin that is being sold on the streets now is often laced with fentanyl, a synthetic form of heroin, which makes it more potent.
"So, to make it in terms of alcohol, this might be the difference between drinking a beer or drinking a bottle of grain alcohol. One, you will enjoy the taste, the other will kill you, and that's what these people are messing around with."
Robach and police officials urged those with friends and family members who are struggling with addiction to get them into treatment.
But David Attridge of the Upstate Recovery Council says that's often easier said than done, even for those who are willing to face their addiction.
"The problem with treatment right now is you're looking at weeks, months, before a bed is available because there are so many people. We don't have enough beds right now."
Attridge said there is also a need for ongoing recovery support, after people are released from treatment programs.