In part one of a five-part series on new Jersey's heroin epidemic, we examine the growing problem of drug use in the Garden State and what is being done to combat the situation.

(Spencer Platt, Getty Images)

For the past several months, as New Jersey's heroin epidemic has continued to worsen, state officials and a consortium of anti-drug groups have banded together, holding symposiums and forums and issuing reports warning of the dangers of heroin use.

At the same time, they've mounted an aggressive public relations campaign to get the word out, but the number of state residents using heroin -- especially among teens and those in their 20s -- keeps growing.

According to Steve Liga, the executive director of the Middlesex County Chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, some pre-teens begin to get high by stealing alcohol, sniffing paint and household cleaners, smoking marijuana and raiding their parent's medicine cabinet for prescription painkillers and other medications.

"Prescription drug abuse in New Jersey appears to have reached a plateau. That abuse has leveled off and is actually showing some signs of decline, but the downside is people are moving from those prescriptions to the heroin, and heroin use continues to rise," Liga said.

Angelo Valente, the executive director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, agreed.

"The accessibility and the cost of heroin is so reasonable that if you have a young person who becomes addicted on prescription drugs, opiate based drugs, then it's much more affordable for them to continue their habit using heroin."

Liga said many used to think of poverty and the stress of having little opportunity as driving factors that led to drug use in the inner cities, but that paradigm has changed.

"Now we have to look at the folks who are in the more affluent areas," he said. "Their stress is getting into the best college, competing on the best sports teams, being with the right people and competing on the right clubs, those are kids who are now turning to drugs for an escape."

Valente added that drug abuse doesn't discriminate.

"This is an issue that affects everyone, heroin abuse and prescription drug abuse can be found in wealthy neighborhoods as well as in poor neighborhoods, in rural and urban communities," Valente said.

He said parents, more than ever, must make an effort to understand exactly what their children are involved in.

In Part 2 of our series on the heroin epidemic in New Jersey, we'll look at how the heroin-antidote drug Narcan is changing the drug- landscape in New Jersey; how it's helping, and what it's not doing.