When users become victims: The heroin epidemic in Newport News, VA

Heroin use does more than destroy an addicted victim's health, it can also come with harsh penalties if charged with a drug crime.

Heroin is a problem throughout the country. This highly addictive drug victimizes families and destroys lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the rate of death connected to heroin overdose has quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. In 2013 alone this translated to over 8,200 deaths. Addiction to this dangerous drug negatively impacts a user's life in a number of ways. In addition to the serious consequences to the user's health, a victim of this drug addiction could also face criminal charges for possession, distribution or sale of heroin.

Heroin use in Virginia

Heroin abuse is an issue that is especially rampant in Virginia. A recent report by the Daily Press notes that Mathews County went from an area with no heroin-related charges or arrests in 2013 to 11 charges in the first half of 2015. The substance abuse and jail services coordinator with the Middle Peninsula-Northern Neck Community Services Board stated that there has been at least a 25 percent increase in heroin use in the area during the 2015 calendar year compared to 2014 alone.

Heroin is an extremely addictive drug that is gaining in popularity. Although the demographic most likely to use this drug remains white males ranging in age from 18 to 25 years, the CDC reports that heroin use has increased in almost every demographic: males and females, young and old, insured or uninsured. Today's reality is that heroin use can impact every family, regardless of race or household income.

Heroin use and Virginia state law

Heroin possession, distribution and use can do more than just destroy the addicted victim's health; it can also come with criminal penalties. The severity of these penalties varies depending on the details of the charges. Virginia classifies heroin as a Schedule I drug. Generally, this means simple possession of any amount of heroin is considered a Class 5 felony and can come with a monetary fine of up to $2,500 and a potential prison sentence of ten years. Penalties for charges for selling the substance are even more severe. For a first offense distribution conviction an individual can suffer a monetary fine of up to $500,000 and a prison sentence of 5 to 40 years. For a second offense, the sentence range is 5 to life, of which three years is a mandatory minimum sentence. A third offense distribution of heroin is punishable by a minimum sentence of life, of which ten years must be actually served, and cannot be suspended. There are additional heightened penalties depending upon the amount of heroin an individual is convicted of possessing with intent to distribute

These penalties are harsh; however options other than incarceration are available. First time offenders for simple possession charges may be eligible for a deferred dismissal under the first offender program. Other individuals, who may not qualify for first offender, may be a candidate for Drug Court, or treatment at a program such as Indian Creek. These programs are designed to encourage rehabilitation instead of simple punishment

These are just a few of the things to be aware of if charged with a heroin crime in Virginia. Additional options, as well as defenses, are available. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your options.