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CrossFit and Addiction Recovery: Portsmouth, Ohio

Through all of the death and destruction left in the wake of the opioid epidemic, stories of redemption and hope are always a breath of fresh air.  We came across an interesting story of a community coming together after years of chaos.  Unless you were born there, you have probably never heard of Portsmouth, Ohio.  Led by an ex-Army native, the community of Portsmouth united to find a unique combination for healing: CrossFit and addiction recovery. Let’s first take a look at Portsmouth over the years.

Crossfit and addiction recovery

Photo Credit:  Michael McCarter and Sam Greene /The Enquirer

A once bustling manufacturing hub on the banks of the Ohio River, Portsmouth has the looks of an All-American City: a small downtown intermittent with brick row-homes and churches, all in the foreground of beautiful green rolling hills.  However, as manufacturing plants moved overseas, the townsfolk of Portsmouth felt the effects of the economy’s globalization.  Thousands lost their jobs, and many found themselves in poverty.  As the population of 20,000 plus suffered, beacons of hope arrived in the form of opioids and opioid dealers.  As we know, that hope quickly became artificial and temporary.

Oh, and when we say “opioid dealers,” we meant to say doctors with access to opioid prescriptions.  Doctors from around the US flooded the streets of Portsmouth, accepting cash transactions for painkillers.  No medical condition required.  If you had the cash, you were in.

On every street corner, “pop up pharmacies” kept the people of Portsmouth in the grip of a widespread opioid plague.  Margo Temporas, a physician who operated one of these pharmacies, dispersed over 1.6 million pills to the streets. Sick and suffering addicts waited in line for hours at the “pain clinics,” as some residents referred them.

Eventually, law enforcement caught on to the operation. Sergeant John Koch, a detective with Scioto County Sheriff’s Office, led a team to dismantle the pill mills and prosecute those responsible.  By 2011, Koch had shut down the last of the pill mills.

Things should improve now, right? Wrong.

As the price of pills sky-rocketed, cheaper alternatives- such as heroin, meth, and fentanyl- engulfed the streets of Portsmouth, which brought a handful of unwanted guests of Mexican drug cartels and dealers from around Ohio.

crossfit and addiction recovery

Photo Credit: Nikki Blankenship/Portsmouth Daily Times

Overdoses. Abandoned buildings. Homelessness. “It was like a scene from the Walking Dead,” one resident recalls.

The situation in Portsmouth and surrounding communities eventually caught the eye of state and federal legislators. Governor John Kasich, who took office in 2011, created multiple agencies to crack down on drug trafficking and expand treatment services to those in the community.  Through millions of dollars of funding, treatment centers and detoxes replaced the “pop up pharmacies” on the street corner.  For the first time in awhile, the people of Portsmouth had hope.

CrossFit and Addiction Recovery

Dale King, a 38-year-old ex Army Intelligence Officer and a native of Portsmouth, served multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He has seen the destruction of war, but that didn’t prepare him for the carnage sweeping across his hometown.

Returning from deployment in 2007, King caught the tail end of the wreckage in Portsmouth.  He witnessed his family and friends succumb to the false promises made by opioids and its dealers.  At first, King ignored the problem, and sought to continue his life in peace after the army.  But the endless sight of men and women trudging to the pain clinics and counseling centers eventually inspired him to make a change.

Through his experience in the military, King recognized the value of team camaraderie and a shared purpose.  From those roots grew an idea of how to bring back a community from the depths of hell. Along with an ex-army buddy, King created the Portsmouth Spartan Kettlebell Club in 2014- a CrossFit gym that would eventually serve as a light of hope in the community.

The Counseling Center, an umbrella-initiative of in-patient treatment and detox in Portsmouth, approached King and the PSKC Gym to create a program for those in recovery to develop the strength and discipline as a weapon in their battle against addiction. The goal: provide addicts with a blueprint for change after leaving addiction treatment.  The Counseling Center began referring its patients to PSKC classes once they completed their in-patient stay.

CrossFit and addiction recoveryThrough the brutal, countless repetitions of burpees, sit-ups, and box-jumps, members of the recovery community had found their safe-haven.  Individuals in recovery would spend hours at the gym following their workout, just to avoid the drug-infested streets and homeless shelters.  In their common plight, they experienced a community of fellows who sought to change their lives. They experienced a shared solution in CrossFit and addiction recovery.

King soon realized that his vision of CrossFit and addiction recovery could change the lives of many hopeless addicts in Portsmouth.  PSKC eventually expanded its services to a fully-comprehensive job training initiative to help gym members transition back into the workforce.  Local businesses around Portsmouth recognized the successful formula of CrossFit and addiction recovery to the point where they preferred hiring members of King’s gym.

Portsmouth has a lot of rebuilding to do.  But the story of Dale King and his vision for addiction recovery can be the foundation on which the city is reborn.

As always, if you or a loved one are struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Our Executive Director is ready to point you in the right direction of treatment services.