IF you want to be scared, really scared, about the direction this country is headed, take a close look at the reports from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office.

The charges that are announced almost on a daily basis are serious — and often involve drugs being transported, dealt or sold in our communities.

Crack, methamphetamine, heroin and Fentanyl, you name it and someone is bringing it into Pennsylvania.

And what is really sad is that those drugs are getting into our communities, our schools, our neighborhoods.

If you think we are exaggerating or that those arrests don’t affect us here in western Pennsylvania’s less-urban areas, take a look at another list — the caseloads from any judge in Mercer County.

You will see the consequences of those drug traffickers and criminal elements.

There are many sad cases that cross the benches of the county judges – everything from drug users caught for the third or fourth time to addicts whose substance abuse has made them regular visitors to courtrooms and jails.

The statistics are pretty bleak for those who get trapped in the drug cycle. Some battle their way out, but others do not.

And then there is the collateral damage. Those are the cases that really make you think.

There are always at least one or two arrests of mothers or fathers who are being charged with child endangerment for exposing their child to their drugs, overdosing or using drugs in the car with their child in the vehicle or those whose drug use has so taken over their lives that they are not caring for their children properly.

Those children — the ones who cannot count on their parents — they are the ones who can easily get lost and turn to gangs or the streets to ease their pain and fear of abandonment.

And from there, it is only a step or two from a life of crime or a drug habit that steals their childhood.

There are a lot of organizations and agencies working overtime to try to save those children and their parents, often with overpowering caseloads themselves.

So what is the point? Is this just another recitation of problems we already know exist without offering any sort of solution?

No, it is a call for awareness that the problem that we hope will never infiltrate our own neighborhoods, communities and families is knocking on our doors.

We need more education. We need more people who understand and communicate to their children about how dangerous and addictive any drug use can be.

We need to instill a little fear about consequences of making even one mistake. And we need to make sure they see what drugs and crime can do to a person’s life.

As we enter yet another discussion about recreational marijuana in our state, perhaps we should think about the problems that already exist here with addiction, with criminal behavior and with the terrible consequences of drug use.

Maybe adding another way to use drugs (even if they are not considered to be in the same league) or another doorway to addiction isn’t such a smart move.

The statistics will scare you. But the wasted human lives and the children left without parents or support, that should terrify you.

We are all one bad actor away from addiction capturing a member of our families. It doesn’t recognize socioeconomic levels, color, background or address.

And in some cases, all it takes is one mistake to lose someone you love.

Talking about drug use, planning to stop it and supporting those who are doing the hardest work will help us fight back.

Tough laws, stiff sentences for dealers and treatment options for those already in the grip — that is how we win the battle.