BRADENTON, Fla. (FOX 13) - 2015 marked a dark year for Manatee County, as deputies and paramedics responded to call after call of heroin and fentanyl overdoses.
"We knew people were dying because of that drug. That drug was devastating families and destroying our community," said Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells.
Overdoses skyrocketed to 984 in 2016, with 126 opioid-related deaths. Wells knew he had to act fast. His office began targeting dealers and traffickers, with help from federal authorities and the State Attorney's Office.
"They were aware that they were selling a drug that was killing people and they didn’t care," Wells said.
The sheriff's office also turned their attention to helping people fight addiction.
"We were not there to arrest them. We were there to get them into treatment. That started to pay off. Eventually they started to get us information," the sheriff said.
That information aided with "Operation Hot Batch," which resulted in 43 federal arrests and 122 federal indictments.
The number of overdoses soon began to drop; now they're now at their lowest level, with a 72 percent reduction in overdoses and a 73 percent reduction in overdose deaths.
"All hands are on deck," said Jessica Zeilman with Prodigal Daughters, a women's recovery home.
Zeilman has witnessed the community's effort to squash the opioid epidemic.
"People who have been rescued from addiction are giving back and showing that there is hope," she said.
She once fought addiction herself, but now helps guide others to recovery.
"You're happy and you’re whole. It would almost be selfish to keep it for yourself because you were once that person that was walking down the road lost and hopeless," she said.
While those numbers are at one of the lowest points they’ve been at in a long time, Wells said it will take a continued effort from his deputies and the community to make sure they don’t rise again.
"We are satisfied with the results, but we still have a lot of work to do," he said.