Minnesota transplant gets helping hand on road to recovery

There are so many stories of lives destroyed by the opioid crisis, but Josh Chilton has freed himself from the shackles of addiction and he thanks Minnesotans for their support.

Josh Chilton was a star linebacker on his high school football team and then his world turned upside down. 

A car crash on the day of a state playoff game left him paralyzed. His North Carolina team was devastated by the news, but still played that night in his honor and won the game.

Chilton hoped there would be more storybook endings, like walking again. However, seven back surgeries in 13 years left him hopeless and with a habit for pain pills.

When doctors cut off his prescriptions, he found relief through a needle filled with heroin.

“It was my way to cop out of life," said Chilton. "It was a way to numb, not just my physical pain, but numb everything inside of me."

Last spring, he arrived in Minnesota from the south with little will to go on living.

It was a last ditch effort at his family's request to find a lasting sobriety.  

”If Josh can be cured or at least deal with his addiction, Josh will change the world,” said his dad, Ski Chilton.

Hazelden was one of only a few treatment centers in the country that could accommodate an addict in a wheelchair.

Last summer, he was about to be released from residential treatment and he was hoping to move into a sober house where he could be surrounded with the support of others in recovery.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said back then.

However, no Minnesota sober houses with vacancies were handicap accessible. Surprisingly, they don't have to be. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act only applies to buildings that are open to the general public.


After Fox 9 ran a story about Chilton’s dilemma, some activists in the local recovery community raised money so he could at least extend his stay at Hazelden for a few more months.

“I spoke with Josh, wonderful young man," said Kim Anton, a recovery advocate.

She knew that if Chilton was going to be successful in recovery he would eventually need a way to get to counseling sessions, medical appointments and someday, a job.

Anton coaxed some local auto businesses into donating a set of wheels to Chilton. He got a Nissan Pathfinder with all the options.

I don’t know what to say,” he said. “Thank you guys, thank you guys.”  

The football star, turned paraplegic, turned drug addict who found redemption in the bold North said his greatest character flaw is feeling sorry for himself.

“I don’t feel sorry for myself right now,” he said as he inspected his SUV.

This moment was another affirmation that the land of 10,000 treatment centers is where he wants to stay.

"This feels like a place where I could make a difference for other people and have purpose and meaning to my life,” Chilton said.

He never did find a sober house that could accommodate him. He moved into a high rise in St. Paul along with a couple of other guys who are there to offer support.

He started looking for work. After getting a lead on one job, his potential employer saw a post on Facebook about him being a recovering drug addict and the offer was rescinded. He worked with a job counselor, had some interviews and hoped someone will look past his wheelchair and other baggage to give him a chance. He did eventually get a job.

His resume, post the car accident, includes youth football coach and African mission worker, but that was before a deep-depression set in and he started self-medicating.

Chilton has been clean for a year.

“That's something I never felt was possible. I couldn't make it a week," he said.

He’s dreaming again about having a future. He would like to become a high school football coach or maybe open a sober house for people with disabilities. They are lofty goals, but remember this is a guy who a lot of people believe can change the world.

"I'm proof that if given a chance, we can recover," he said.

Chilton acknowledged he never would have made it this far if it was not for all of the people in Minnesota who have helped him.