LONDON, Ohio (WKBN) – It has been a busy year for the Bureau of Criminal Investigations’ drug laboratories, and many of their investigations center around the drug fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a pain medication that can be absorbed through the skin and is 50 times more potent than heroin.

Because of this, a mask is now a regular part of the uniform for Bureau of Criminal Investigation Forensic Scientist Michelle Taylor.

“It’s very scary to work with these substances,” Taylor said.

All BCI labs now have the opiate-reversal drug naloxone on hand at all times. And, there has been a change in policy.

“We now have to work with other co-workers,” Taylor said. “Someone always has to be around when you’re working with these controlled substances.”

Police agencies send BCI drug evidence that needs tested for an investigation. When checking a substance, scientists run a color test.

First, they dilute it in a liquid. The color shows that it turns shows what type of drug they are dealing with. For example, opiates are purple.

Once the color test is run, BCI uses an instrument that break downs exactly what is in the mixture.

As of October 1, BCI received 4,811 heroin submissions — on pace to be the same as 2015.

What is spiking is the fentanyl submissions that BCI receives.

BCI handled 1,865 investigations in the first nine months of 2016. That’s more than all of the submissions from the previous five years combined.

Taylor said fentanyl is often laced into others.

“Heroin is now seen with fentanyl and other fentanyl compounds. I’ve seen heroin and fentanyl in pills and just straight fentanyl in pills,” she said.

For the first time this year, the lab also received carfentanil, an animal tranquilizer that’s 100 times stronger than fetanyl. BCI tested it 64 times it nine months.

Cincinnati Police believe the potent drug is to blame for 174 overdoses in six days in August.WKBN is launching a year-long public service campaign to raise awareness about the problem and help come up with solutions. It kicked off with a special town hall discussion, “27 Investigates: Heroin Crisis – National Problem, Local Solutions.”See all of WKBN 27 First News’ stories on the epidemic in our “Heroin Crisis” section.