In part one of our series on the rise in drug use among middle and high school students in New Jersey, we explore the substances that are being abused and their dangers. 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.

heroin (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Drug abuse continues to increase in New Jersey, especially among middle and high school students.

According to Steve Liga, executive director of the Middlesex County Chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, problems for many users start early on in life, when they begin drinking alcohol and sniffing paint, glue, and household chemicals to get high.

He said that can be extremely dangerous because it can stop users from breathing, and "it's going to make them very dizzy, so accidents can easily happen, and it's very dangerous on the brain. Most of these are chemical solvents, so they can actually cause brain damage."

"We know that inhalants are a strong predictor for later drug use, if a kid is experimenting with inhalants as early as middle school and sometimes late elementary school, that's a kid that's going to be on the fast track for using harder drugs by high school, because they're used to getting high," he said.

DEA Special Agent Timothy McMahon pointed out drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and synthetic forms of pot, coke and what's billed as a pure version of Ecstasy called Molly are all popular, but "the biggest problem facing the state today is the increased use of prescription drugs which then ultimately in turn is then leading to a spike in heroin use."

He pointed out parents have these prescription drugs right in their medicine cabinets so it's easily accessible to kids, and many parents aren't particularly concerned about this because they feel the medication was prescribed by a doctor and filled by a pharmacy so it must be safer than the illicit drugs.

"They just don't understand that the painkillers have the same effect on the brain as heroin does," he said.

McMahon also stressed more 1,300 New Jersey residents are dying of drug overdoses every year because The purity of the drug being used is always in question.

"You don't know how powerful and pure it is, so there's no way to know how much of a substance you're getting, or what it may be laced with and how that is going to affect you, which means it's a total gamble, and unfortunately, many young people wind up dying," he said.

Angelo Valenti, the executive director of Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, said "when a young person starts experimenting with any of these drugs, it becomes much easier for them to potentially experiment with other drugs, and drugs such as heroin, which has really become an epidemic in our state."