The heroin problem has reached epidemic proportions in many parts of the country. For the women and men who are addicted to the drug, getting clean can feels impossible. Addicts also face another hard truth: They will likely become involved in the criminal justice system.

Massachusetts has taken a hard stance against heroin. The law is strict regarding all offenses related to the drug. Here are a few important things you should know about heroin charges.

Possession of heroin

Having any amount of heroin in your possession, which means it is in an area you control and not necessarily on your person, is a felony. Possession charges apply only to amounts of less than 14 grams (about half an ounce). Possessing more than 14 grams will lead to a trafficking charge. For a first offense, you face up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $2,000. Subsequent offenses come with an even harsher penalty of 2.5 to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

In the case of nonviolent offenses, it might be possible to participate in a drug court program. This means that you agree to enter a treatment program that is overseen by the court. It includes rehabilitation and very strict monitoring. Drug court enables some people to get the help they need to recover from addiction.

Trafficking and sales

A person who faces a trafficking charge is looking at 5 to 20 years behind bars for amounts of 14 to 28 grams. From 28 to 100 grams, the time increases to 7 to 20 years. Cases involving 100 to 200 grams come with a possible prison sentence of 10 to 20 years, and amounts in excess of 200 grams of heroin can mean an incarceration period of 15 to 20 years. Fines are also possible in all of these types of cases.

When it comes to the sale of heroin, a conviction can mean 2 to 10 years in prison. Subsequent offenses come with longer incarceration periods: A second offense carries 5 to 15 years and a third means no less than 40 years. Sales that take place near schools lead to harsher penalties. You will also have to pay fines if you are convicted of selling heroin.

Know your options

It is important to consider the penalties when deciding how to proceed with your defense. In addition to drug court, your options could include diversion programs, a plea deal or trial. Make sure you understand your options before making a decision.