I have lived and worked in New Milford for 18 years. Like many of you, I have seen the changes that have occurred in our town.

There has been an alarming increase in drug abuse and many, many deaths as a result of overdose. This monthly column will address the issues surrounding this crisis, and to help people understand the problem and learn about the resources available to them.

Drug abuse is everyone’s problem. Like education, it is the great equalizer. It covers all age, race and socio-economic class.

In our emergency department in 1998, cases involving heroin, crack, methamphetamine etc., were few and far between. Now jump ahead to 2015, and not a week goes by that we are not caring for a person dropped off in the parking lot or brought in by ambulance not breathing or near cardiac arrest due to drug overdose.

We breathe for them, give them medications and save their lives. Many times, I have been assaulted by patients after saving their lives because the medications used eliminate their “high.” If that doesn’t show you how serious this addiction is, nothing will.

A real problem with dealing with drug addiction head-on is the stigma associated with it. Who of us doesn’t have a family member who would be considered an alcoholic? A relative who can’t breathe, yet continues to smoke? Somehow these addictions are more acceptable, yet more deadly and far more costly. A tipping point is coming though.

Nationally, the number of deaths due to drug overdose has increased from 15,000 in 2001 to 45,000 in 2015. If this sounds high, realize those numbers are only the deaths reported as a direct cause. If we were to include deaths by trauma, infection, heart failure that were related to drug use, the numbers would be staggering. The total cost to our nation due to drug abuse in 2014 was $193 billion.

This column is meant to educate the community. I plan to discuss the drugs, both prescribed and illegal, signs or symptoms that you or a loved one might have a drug problem, treatments available, rehabilitation resources, as well as support for friends and families.

The New Milford Substance Abuse Prevention Council is an excellent resource. It is on Facebook and I would highly recommend people following it. The website is www.nmsubstanceabusecouncil.org.

Dr. Carl D’Andrea is the chief of emergency medicine at New Milford Hospital. He can be reached for questions or comments at drcarldandrea@gmail.com