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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a periodic series of articles examining the lives of people who have battled with addiction to drugs.

HUNTINGTON - Any person working in recovery will tell you there is no single way to overcome a drug habit.

Richard Meade, of Huntington, knows first-hand that is true.

Meade, 35, started taking Lortab, a mix of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, when he was 13 after injuring his knee.

He took more than he was supposed to, and from then on, Meade spent years of his life chasing the euphoria he felt - something he said he never felt again.

"I kept hidden (that) I was taking more than I was (supposed to) all the way through high school," Meade said. "I had this conversation with my dad the other day - he didn't know until I came out (about drug use) years later. He was like, 'Man, you surprised me.' The doctor would prescribe me medicine, and I would take too much."

He continued to hide his addiction until his daughter was born.

"My wife told me get clean or never see my daughter again," Meade said. "That was my catalyst to truly get something going. I decided to go to the methadone clinic."

Sadly, Meade's story didn't end there.

"I thought it was great at that time," he said. "Over the next 11 years, I became a zombie. I never left the house. I couldn't keep down a job. I couldn't do anything for more than a couple of weeks at a time. Methadone controlled by life."

Meade said all he could do was eat, watch TV and take his methadone. His lifestyle during that time led him to gain a large amount of weight. At one point, he was taking 150 milligrams of methadone a day, he said.

After 11 years of methadone, he found himself sick in the hospital.

"I actually died of respiratory failure for a couple of minutes," he said. "They brought me back and had me on the ventilator for eight, almost nine days. They said it was due to three factors: my weight, smoking three and a half packs a day - which since I've quit and I've lost some weight - but the biggest one was the methadone. Over an extended period of time, it lowered my respiratory rate to the point where I went to sleep in the hospital and died on them."

The doctor told him he needed to come off methadone, and they sedated him to do so.

When he woke up, he signed a waiver telling the hospital to stop at 30 milligrams of methadone, the threshold to start Suboxone.

"I found out about the program at Prestera, and how it was a lot more involved in us," he said. "They put their time into us, and they expect us to put our time back in."

Now in the Suboxone program for just over two years, Meade said he has decided he is ready to start tapering off the medication.

"I feel it myself that I'm ready," Meade said. "It's the first time in my life that I can see light at the end of the tunnel. It's always just been the train, but now it's daylight."

Suboxone, therapy sessions and support allowed Meade to have a life again. He is a year and a half into a degree for electrical engineering. He has a dream of opening an electronics repair shop, mainly to take the burden off of his wife, who has continued to support him.

Most important, he has his family back.

"I'm my daughter's softball coach," Meade said. "I've coached cheerleading. Since I've been here, I've been a Girl Scout leader. It's turned us back into a family instead of them and me. We don't fight over the stupid stuff anymore. It's been great for us as a whole."

He credits the Prestera program for getting him where he is.

"Without them, Lord knows where I'd be," Meade said. "I probably wouldn't be with my family, and they deserved better. This place helped me be better."

He currently takes two 8 milligram strips of Suboxone a day - a far cry from the 96 milligrams of methadone he was on when he entered the hospital.

"You don't feel high," Meade said. "You don't feel groggy. I don't nod out. Suboxone is a totally different creature than methadone.

"It's not a magic bullet, it's a tool we have to learn to use and use it right."

Meade said he got himself back.

"I haven't known myself since I was 13," he said. "It's always scary. I spent more time on drugs than off, and it's scary to not know who you are. I like myself. It's pretty cool."

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter @TaylorStuckHD.

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