Snow was falling and the temperature hovered in the low 30s. That didn’t stop or even reduce the enthusiasm of the 50 or so people who gathered early Friday afternoon in front of Port 45 Recovery on Grant Street to honor more than 100 people from Scioto County lost to substance abuse disorder, more commonly simply called addiction.
“It just kind of magically all came together, it’s as if it was meant to be,” Kathy Newman, a Port 45 counselor, said just prior to the release of approximately 75 or so black balloons each carrying the names of one or more persons who succumbed to their addictions. That presumably included the name of Newman’s sister, who the counselor said lost her fight with addiction a few years ago.
“We’ve just lost so many people in this county. It has to stop,” Newman said.
As she spoke to the Daily Times, Port 45 clients taking part in the event seemingly spontaneously broke out in a round of applause, they said for the counselors and others at the outpatient recovery and treatment center.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Newman said. “Saving lives.”
The well-known treatment center was founded by JoAnna Krohn (who now goes by the name JoAnna Donini) and opened in honor of her 18-year-old son who took his own life under the influence of drugs and alcohol. The name, Port 45, was inspired by the jersey Wes Workman wore when he played football for Portsmouth High School.
Donini only recently moved on and has become an absentee partner in Port 45, now operated mostly by its founder’s Columbus-based business partner. Port 45 already has a Columbus location and come this summer will have a second Portsmouth location in the former Moose Lodge building on 11th Street.
Port 45 Site Supervisor Abbi Andre said the current facility serves about 150 clients and simply has outgrown its space on Grant Street. The 100 square-foot former Moose Lodge is being completely gutted and remodeled, she said, adding planners hope for an opening in June or July. Andre continued that having a second Port 45 location in Portsmouth should only serve to allow the organization to help more people and save more lives locally.
“Port 45 really saved my life,” said recovering addict Eugene Collier II. Andre wondered if Collier wanted his name in the paper and asked if he could make his comments anonymously. Collier insisted he wanted his name in print as a recovering addict, and, presumably hopefully, an inspiration to others.
“I just hope other people would reach out for the help that is there,” Collier stated.
Collier said he started with low-level pain pills in his teens and later, as have so many others, moved onto much stronger drugs. He said he arrived at Port 45 almost in defiance of someone who insisted he would never get clean. Initially, Collier added, he was out to prove that person wrong only later realizing he had to go through the recovery process for himself and no one else. He admitted to at least one relapse but said he has been clean for nine months.
“The staff here is just unbelievable,” Collier continued, talking about Port 45. “They actually care if you live or die.”
Unfortunately, part of the motivation for Friday’s balloon ceremony was the very recent deaths of two Port 45 clients. Andre and Collier both talked about those persons succumbing just in the last week to an extremely potent strain of fentanyl, often masquerading as heroin or methamphetamine, making its way brutally through this community and others. Scioto County Commissioner Bryan Davis on Thursday talked about six autopsies being needed from drug overdoses that occurred in Scioto County just over the previous weekend.
“To say we’re not in a crisis situation would be wrong,” Davis said.
The Portsmouth City Health Department issued a warning about the fatal drugs making the rounds. The health department’s Lisa Roberts said some of the drugs being sold as heroin are up to 100 times stronger than normal heroin and can kill in a matter of a few minutes.
Collier said unfortunately while many in the addiction community know about the dangerous strain of drugs, not many really are changing their behavior. He said addicts know they are essentially playing Russian roulette every time they get high, but addiction disorder makes them willing to take that chance.
Andre talked about how many substance abusers have an irrational sense of invincibility.
“Every time they use, they know it might be their last time using,” she said.
Andre added she is aware some people in the community have objected to re-utilizing the former Moose Lodge as a treatment center. The argument goes that Portsmouth has enough treatment centers as it is.
“We are an established center that wants to continue saving lives,” Andre said. “More treatment means more life! We are currently a part of the solution and not part of the problem.”