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Ex-Panther's dark tale of drug abuse

Hero of the Underground: My Journey Down To Heroin – And Back

By Jason Peter, with Tony O'Neill. St.Martin's Press. 289 pages. $24.95.

How much self-abuse can one person endure, especially a first-round draft pick in the NFL? That's the question you're left with as you read “Hero of the Underground,” Jason Peter's story of his road to near-destruction that began during his time with the Carolina Panthers.

Peter's four-year career with the Panthers from 1998-2001 was an injury-plagued bust. As he struggled to cope with ailments and surgeries, he became hooked on painkilling drugs, many prescribed by pro-athlete-worshipping doctors in Charlotte who weren't even seeing him as a patient.

Peter's time with the Panthers wasn't happy. Although he felt isolated in Charlotte after a glory-filled career at Nebraska, Peter's 37-day contract holdout before his rookie season was only the beginning of his problems in the NFL. Injuries, most severely to his shoulders and neck, kept him on the sidelines much of the time. He played in 38 games over his four seasons.

Peter describes a meeting with general manager Marty Hurney and former coach George Seifert, during which they told him his injuries were so severe that they could not in good conscience allow him to play any more.

Peter became hooked on cocaine and, after the Panthers cut him that day in 2001, he moved on to smoking crack and – ultimately – using heroin.

“I was a slave to my addictions,” writes Peter. “I could not go anywhere unless the heroin and cocaine said it was OK with them.”

Peter writes of his drug use in unsparing detail. He often took 80 pain and sleeping pills a day. After leaving Charlotte in 2001, he spent days – even weeks – in his New York apartment doing nothing but snorting cocaine and sleeping. His nose was so irritated from cocaine use that on an airplane trip, he angered movie director Spike Lee (who was sitting nearby) with the constant noise he made clearing his sinuses.

Peter has been clean for about two years now, thanks, he says, to a detox drug called Suboxone and the influence of his wife, Sarah. They live in Lincoln, Neb., where Peter does a sports-talk radio show.

It might be easy to criticize Peter for his drug use during and after his Panthers career. But he blames nobody for it but himself – not his family, not his friends, not football.

And that, from a book that takes us down the darkest paths of drug abuse, is a refreshing message.