By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer
DeSales University, Center Valley faced the opioid epidemic and addiction crisis April 25 with stories from a pro football hall of famer and a Catholic school alumnus, who both experienced success before turning to cocaine, alcohol, heroine and pain killers.
Former National Football League player Cris Carter and Joe Ashdale, a talented athlete and alumnus of Father Judge High School, Philadelphia, were on hand at the University Center to share their love of sports and their descent into drugs and alcohol.
Along with athleticism and addiction, both men are also affiliated with Ambrosia Treatment Center, Florida, for whom Carter is a spokesperson and where Ashdale sought treatment and is now the resident manager.
Carter, one of seven children who grew up poor and raised by a single mother, said Ohio State University awarded him a football scholarship and sent a car for him the morning after his high school graduation.
During his junior year he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles under Coach James David “Buddy” Ryan with a $1 million contract and flourished as one of the top wide receivers in the league.
What few people knew was that Carter had become a full-blown drug addict off the field.
“I was trying to cop dope every night,” he said.
After games and practices he would maneuver the streets of South Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey in his luxury car looking for drugs.
“One time a guy came over to my car. He gave me the drugs and I gave him the money. He recognized and swiped my Eagles hat off my head. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t even run after him,” said Carter.
Unable to make the drive back to his plush home in Cherry Hill, Carter said he would often sleep in his car in the parking lot of Veterans Stadium and ask workers to wake him up when the stadium opened.
His use of ecstasy, alcohol and crack caught up with him, forcing Ryan to shock the football world and cut Carter from the team on Labor Day 1990.
“Most guys didn’t know I was an addict – but Ryan did. It was the worst day of my life when he cut me. He told me that he didn’t trust addicts,” recalled Carter.
“After starting 38 games, an equipment guy handed me a garbage bag to clean out my locker. I remember crying while driving over the Walt Whitman Bridge,” he said.
Although Carter said he was already clean for six month before being cut, Ryan still released him and he was immediately picked up by the Minnesota Vikings.
While it was one of the worst days of his life, Carter said Ryan did him a huge favor by cutting him, never speaking about his addiction and telling the press, “All he does is catch touchdowns.”
“That’s how my life changed. It changed in one day,” said Carter.
“I had to change. When you are involved in substance abuse – people can’t trust you. That’s what we do. That’s what addiction looks like. But today, I am 28 years, seven months and four days sober.”
Carter also said that no one should ever say “I won’t drink or do drugs ever again” and take recovery one day at a time.
“People have to get it in their minds that people have addictions and they deserve the help that is out there,” he said.
Ashdale, who was raised with two sisters and one brother by loving parents, said he wasn’t interested in getting help after getting drunk for the first time when he was 13 to impress older friends.
Never waking up with a hangover, he said there was no way to predict that he would become an addict since he was blessed with a loving family and never suffered trauma.
His descent into addiction increased by buying Percocet from a fellow student who just had his wisdom teeth removed.
Despite binge drinking and blacking out, he excelled at baseball and academics.
“On paper, everyone loved ‘Joey,’” he said.
Ashdale was also the kid who out-drank everyone, wanted the spotlight on him and was rolling in kegs of beer after his parents went out for the evening.
Accepting a baseball scholarship from Gwynedd Mercy University, Philadelphia, Ashdale said his roommate became his “live in” pharmacist after he suffered a knee injury.
Unable to play baseball, he walked onto the golf team and was elected class president – and maintained his alcohol and drug habit.
During his senior year he rarely attended class and was stealing to afford his addiction.
Then he was called to Student Services, where he was surprised to find his father and the dean of students waiting to tell him to leave the university.
In and out of rehabilitation centers, Ashdale forged and cashed checks belonging to his sister, stole cards from a christening party, and gave stolen and inactive gift cards to family members as Christmas gifts.
“I ruined my family name. Friends were angry at me. I didn’t get invited anywhere. I had no conscience,” he said.
Ashdale finally hit rock bottom when he called a friend from a bridge that he was threatening to leap from.
“He came and got me, and I was in recovery at Ambrosia in less than a day,” he said.
In recovery, Ashdale learned life skills and got a job cleaning rugs before becoming Ambrosia’s resident manager after five years of sobriety.
“For me, I don’t know why I became a drug addict or an alcoholic. I had everything I needed as a kid,” he said.
As a recovering addict, Ashdale said he still has everything he needs.
“I have sobriety, a beautiful wife, a daughter and one on the way,” he said.
The evening also featured representatives from Kolbe Academy, Bethlehem the first Catholic recovery school in the nation and a mock teen bedroom to show where kids commonly stash drugs and alcohol, sponsored by the Center for Humanistic Change.