We are hearing more and more everyday about the increasing heroin epidemic here at the Jersey Shore. The problem is no longer relegated to inner cities, or even local towns with a bad rap like Asbury Park.

No, this problem is widespread, and it's targeting our friends, our families, our neighbors, and co-workers. And it's ruining the lives of people at younger and younger ages. And I am trying to understand why.

To those using, or tempted to use:

Dear potential user,

I'm 29. When I graduated from Marlboro High School in 2003, I admittedly had smoked pot a handful of times, as did plenty of kids in my class. I also knew of a much smaller group of the wealthier kids who were into cocaine, which I thought was a little crazy.

Heroin, though? Unheard of.

Except now, it's just as 'normal' as any other drug. Heroin is no longer that scary drug you never would touch. Now it's something you might find at a house party.

Just today, two young women from Brick were arrested, charged with drug possession, among other things. They are 20-year-old Amanda Louk and 25-year-old Brittany Cassanovas, and they were found with 549 BAGS of heroin, 12 grams of crack cocaine, prescription drugs, a scale and almost $1900 in cash.

They could both be facing up to five years in prison if convicted at trial. Five years of your life spent in a box...and when you get out, what kind of life will you have?

Think about all the things you have done and experienced in the last five years, and now imagine missing out on all of it.

Every person has potential in them to do something worthwhile with their life, and being an inmate isn't it.

You think you're just gonna pop an Oxy at a party to get away from your problems for a little while? I know at least three people who are very close to me who have had to spend time in rehab, and sacrifice family and friends, because of that very thing. There's no getting away from THAT problem, and it ruins more than just your own life. Trust me.

Oxy, and its cheaper, ugly stepsister heroin, is not the kind of drug you try just once. And if you do, you're probably the luckiest person alive, because for everyone else, they can expect to wind up in jail or dead.

I've done my share of stupid crap, and I thank my lucky stars I survived it all, because there is so much I've gotten to experience in my 20s that I am grateful for. I've never once thought, 'Thank GOD I did that drug last night!' I've never made a life-changingly good decision when I was high, but I've made a ton of bad ones.

Regardless, there's a fine line between partying and pissing your life away.

Even if you don't wind up in jail or dead, do you want to be a slave to your dealer? To your drug?

The next time you're at a party and your 'cool' kids or supposed friends (These are not good friends. Believe that.) ask if you want some, just take a second and ask yourself, is it really worth it?

If you're lucky, there is life after high school, and college, and your 20s. You want to be there for it. And the people who love you want you to be there for it too.

Let's just put it out there: no one in the outside world thinks of a heroin user and says, 'Awesome!'

No. They say 'trashy,' 'scumbag,' and other words I won't print here.

You're better than that. Even if you don't see it. You're better than all of it.

Be someone your younger self would look up to, and your future self will be grateful for.

If you or someone you know needs help with drug abuse, there are resources available: