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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of a series of periodic articles examining the lives of people who have battled with addiction to drugs. Names have been changed for this story at the request of the subject.

HUNTINGTON - Parts of his story sound like it could be from a movie.

Smoking pot for the first time around the age of 5, Thomas, now 34, led a hazy life of self-medicating his attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder and hopping trains, taking anything that would get him to his next high.

"I didn't have love in my heart," he said.

It was a life in stark contrast to the life he lives now.

"I just was drawn to a different path," he said.

By middle school, Thomas realized he could trade his ADD medication for other pills. He said he had a fixation on medication.

"I didn't even know it was wrong at first because it started in a really childish place," he said. "It was a slow, but sure steady progression. By high school, I didn't know I was addicted. I didn't know what was wrong with me; I just knew I felt really bad."

As he entered high school, his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and with that came enough pain medicine he said he would scoop handfuls. He said his life revolved around partying.

"You could trade them for whatever," Thomas said. "I used to trip a lot of acid in high school. It was a daily thing. People thought I was so cool. I put acid in my eye. I don't know why people thought that was cool. It hurt really bad."

At 17, he tasted travel, taking a trip with some girls who planned to earn money as strippers in New Orleans.

"It's a crazy story, I know," he said.

When he came back, he started at Marshall University and began studying sociology. Though he made the dean's list, he was still spending all his financial aid on drugs, though not heroin.

"Everyone else around me fell," Thomas said. "Back then I judged people for that. If you weren't strong enough to fight that, you aren't good enough as a person. Even though I was feeling awful, I hid it and thought I was better. Everyone I knew eventually died or got in programs. But most of them died."

In the middle of this, he decided in order to study nomadic subcultures for his research he had to hop trains across the country.

In Texas, while sleeping on the ground, something happened to his ear to cause major inflammation.

"I had to lay in the middle of the road for anyone to take me seriously that I needed help," Thomas said. "People don't take you seriously when you are dressed like you're homeless. They took me to the hospital, and my pain was off the scale, so they gave me strong pain meds. And I got a refill."

That's when another spiral started, he said.

Though he came back home, started taking classes again including finishing his capstone course and getting a job, everything revolved and went toward getting high.

He said for a two-year period he went through withdrawal only once.

Then he found Opana.

Opana is a prescription painkiller similar to OxyContin. It was designed, however, to deter abuse. It was the primary drug of choice for users in Indiana before the HIV outbreak.

"I had a really low tolerance when I first started," Thomas said. "I could get high up to eight times a day on just one Opana 40. Over a year or faster, I got to the point I was taking four a day. I would take the money I would get paid, go buy drugs then sell the drugs. I would make a lot of money."

He was on a six-month binge when his sister said something that shook him to his core.

"She looked at me and said 'I don't even think you are my brother anymore. Who are you?' " Thomas said. "I know that sounds really cheesy, but that really hurt. Because we were always close, even if I was complete horrible human being, she was always there for me."

He spent three years trying to get clean by himself and relapsing.

"I was afraid of being on a list because I was afraid it would haunt my career, but I couldn't even go to college," Thomas said. "It was just a three-year period of me laying there trying to get clean, getting high, staying high for a week or two then trying to quit. It was horrible."

He said that time is a blur.

"I was just nodding off and looking," Thomas said. "That's not living. That's as close to death as you can get."

He said what he wanted was his employer to drug test him, but it never happened. The change happened when he realized he could get a medical card.

That led him to Prestera.

"This place saved my life, for sure," Thomas said. "I would have already been dead if it wasn't for this place."

Thomas is in the Suboxone program. After a year and a half in the program, he has lowered his amount to 14 milligrams a day, and he has asked the doctor to begin tapering him off. The medication helps him manage his other medications and allowed him to take back control of his life.

He also is the chair of the Medication Assisted Recovery Support group, or MARS, helping others maintain their sobriety.

He's hoping to go back to college.

"I hope my future will be brighter," he said.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter @TaylorStuckHD.

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