In part two of our series "Drugs and our kids," we look at why the heroin epidemic has exploded so dramatically in the Garden State. All this week we’ll examine the issue, look for answers about why this is happening, and discuss what can be done to reverse the trend.
(Spencer Platt, Getty Images)

We're continuing to see more and more youngsters in middle and high school experiment with drugs, and some pay the ultimate price.

Last year in New Jersey, more than 1,300 young people died from drug overdoses - and most of them involved snorting or shooting heroin.

According to Angelo Valenti, the executive director of Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, we're seeing a dramatic increase in heroin use because "the accessibility and 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."

So why is heroin cheaper here than in other states?

"New Jersey is considered a top state for heroin distribution because of our prime location," said DEA Special Agent Tim McMahon.

He explained it's "our highway system coming through New Jersey, the close access to New York, the different ports with container ships coming in, you have the airports, again between New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, so it is a natural gateway - this is where the stuff is coming in."

Valenti said prescription drug and opiate abuse deaths among 18 to-25-year-olds now surpass car accidents as a leading cause of death.

"On every level, we're seeing the use of prescription drugs and heroin explode in the state of New Jersey," Valenti said.

Jim Curtin, executive director of Daytop New Jersey, said there's another reason why heroin use, and heroin deaths, are rising.

"Among the young people, the stigma or the fear connected with heroin abuse no longer exists" he said. "I think today kids are introduced to it young, through their peer groups primarily, and it's seen as a trendy drug."

He added not too long ago, "we had this vision of hard core heroin addicts, junkies, with blood running down their arms, but the reality today is nothing like what we used to believe was your prototypical heroin abuser."

Click below to view the first story in the “Drugs and Our Kids” series: