(WBTV) - Marriage, two kids, middle class jobs. Ron and Mary Louis Hough's life in the suburbs of Charlotte was typical until about two years ago.
"She's stolen thousands and thousands (of dollars' worth) of jewelry, electronic equipment," said Mary Louis. "My wedding ring is gone. My college class ring. (Ron's) wedding ring, jewelry from my parents."
All of it was taken and sold, not by a stranger, but by their 25-year-old daughter Katie to feed her heroin addiction.
"Just didn't think it would hit my family," said Mary Louis.
"When (my wife) told me what she was doing, 'I was like no' and she said yeah, she's doing it," said Ron.
Katie's journey towards addiction probably started in her teenage years. Her parents say fitting in was hard, so was focusing. Around the age of 14 she was caught trying to sell her prescription medication, Ritalin. By her early 20's she was shooting up heroin.
"One of my friends said you want to try (heroin) and I said yes and really from that day it's been non-stop," said Katie.
A non-stop cycle of getting high, getting sick, taking from your own family to buy the next fix.
"You see something that you know is worth money and you do whatever you have to do to get it," said Katie.
Her parents haven't pressed charges. They haven't kicked her out of the house. Before you judge their decision, consider their reasons. Tough love comes with a possible outcome a parent would have to live with.
"I just fear getting the phone call that they found her dead," said Mary Louise. "So that's my fear that we will lose her completely."
The Hough's strategy is quickly becoming the state's in large part because of the lobbying done by the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC).
"We want to keep people alive long enough so that they can recover," said Tessie Castillo.
Castillo is NCHRC's Advocacy and Communications Coordinator. She shuttles between her cramped Raleigh office and the nearby North Carolina State Legislative Building.
"We were considered this tiny radical organization who are helping drug users," said Castillo. "Nobody would talk to us, no government agency would touch us."
All that has changed over the past five years. Locking people up wasn't working. Heroin use exploded and deaths began to multiply. NCHRC pushed the state legislature for new ways to combat the epidemic and increasingly that answer has been okay.
"It has to do with the fact that (heroin use) is affecting neighborhoods where people in power live," said Castillo.
NCHRC's efforts have lead to a sea-change in thinking in North Carolina. Nuance has been added to the prescription of tough anti-drug laws.
In recent years the state has passed a "Good Samaritan/911" law. If you are with someone overdosing you can call for help and not be charged. Another law allows users to avoid prosecution for having drug paraphernalia if they tell an approaching officer they have a needle on them.
NCHRC also helped push through a measure which allows for the widespread distribution of the anti-overdose drug Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan.
"We've distributed over 25,000 of these life saving kits (containing Naloxone)," said Castillo.
She says more than 2500 people across North Carolina have been saved since the program was started. A recent example was in Union County which just started allowing its sheriff's deputies to carry the drug.
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NCHRC's is now asking lawmakers to approve a needle exchange program. A bill has been introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly's short session which is now underway. Advocates say the exchange is necessary to protect law enforcement officers and medics as well as curbing skyrocketing rates of infections, Hepatitis C and HIV.
Proposed Legislation: Authorize Needle Exchange Programs
"We're seeing people scrounging through trash cans to find syringes, picking them off the ground sharing them among roommates or even underground networks," said Castillo.
Critics of such programs worry they remove incentives to seek treatment and increase drug abuse.
Castillo says they don't and she says it keeps her organization in regular contact with those battling addiction. She sees that as another opportunity to get them into rehab.
"I don't want to be on it," said Katie Hough. "I despise it."
Katie's tried rehab before. The hope is the next attempt will be the one that works, for her sake and her family, all tortured by addiction.
"I can't but blame myself that I wasn't watching close enough, or that I wasn't doing something," said Mary Louise Hough.