Oxyana vs. Oceana: Reality or truth

Oceana, W.Va., and Oxyana are two entirely different places on the planet in the imagination of Sean Dunne, a film maker whose award-winning documentary has been nominated for a prestigious award.

The town nestled in Wyoming County is considered by some as the nation's OxyContin capital, earning it the nickname "Oxyana." Dunne's film about its epidemic premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and won an award. It's been nominated for an Emmy in the short documentary category.

The film also sparked discussions and anger in southern West Virginia about ways to deal with prescription drug abuse that has overwhelmed health and law enforcement officials. Many West Virginians are upset about the film, concerned that the trailer and promotional items portray the community negatively.

Oxyana is a fleeting thing," Dunne said in a telephone interview. "It's something that can go away with everyone kind of coming together and kind of identifying what the issue is and figuring out a new multifaceted approach and solution."

"It's in one of the most beautiful places on earth where the people are so supportive of one another. There is also very dark spot in Oceana and it's prescription drug abuse." he said.

Dunne has experienced the pain prescription drug abuse causes families. His father was addicted to pain killers and the month of filming the story in Oceana helped heal old wounds. "It all just came rushing back," he said.

The film quest began a year ago when Dunne and a friend were on a road trip from Virginia to Nashville, Tenn. Another friend suggested that Oceana's Cow Shed Motel would be a good place to crash for the night.

A short time after their arrival, they met Jason, a drug dealer with a huge wad of cash and story to tell.

"Jason said, 'I'm gonna break it down to you what this town really is,'" Dunne said. "'It might be called Oceana, but people here call it Oxyana. All there is here is dope.' That kind of fascinated me. Within 10 minutes of that, he was shooting OxyContin into his hand. I was shocked."

In the film, Jason revealed that his father killed both his mother and brother before turning the gun on himself. When he discovered the bodies the house was littered with prescription pain killers.

In a number of scenes in the film Jason is seen smashing OxyContin tablets with a spoon, mixing them with water and injecting the mix with syringes to get high. In a matter of fact fashion he explains explains how other dealers visit out-of-state doctors to get huge prescriptions for the drugs.

Jason, Dunne said, is now in drug rehab.

Dunne and his producer returned and people opened about the depths of drug abuse and its toll on the community of 1,500.

During the film crew's month-long stay, they heard a story common in the rural U.S.: prescription drug abuse tears communities apart in an atmosphere of lawlessness. Once they are hooked, the addicts in small towns turn to crime and prostitution to support monstrously expensive drug habits.

The drug, OxyContin, is also referred to as hillbilly heroin.

The film offers tidbits of a half dozen people whose lives are torn apart by the deadly drug, often with tragic consequences.

Former Wyoming County prosecutor Rick Staton, a member of the state anti-drug task force, said the problem grew to the point while he was in office that he ordered officers to stop making arrests.

"It's just so prevalent here it's hard for us to keep track," Station said in the film. "One time last summer I had to tell the drug task force to stop because we couldn't keep up with the paperwork."

Staton, now an official with the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs, did not respond to email requests for an interview for this story.

A doctor at a Beckley hospital recounted how he personally deals with at least one drug overdose daily. "That doesn't count the people that someone finds dead before they can get them to the hospital," he said as he confronted the camera.

Oceana dentist Mike Moore wept during one scene as he explained the toll was taking on his community and family. Moore said he remains in the community to do a small part to help stem the tide of tragedy.

The film is an eerie drive-by documentary with haunting music. The commentary of the film is punctuated by transition scenes shot from a moving vehicle -- row after row of houses seen from W.Va. 10, or Cook Parkway as it snakes through town.

There are scenes of a group of people ensnared by the drug as they go about their lives four-wheeling on a reclaimed surface mine.

One man talks about his addiction from the point of view of a homeless person living under highway bridge.

Another man details his addiction while he is struggling with brain cancer. Both he nad his wife deal with addiction.

A woman bares her fears for her small child in the event her drug dependent husband goes out of control in a drug-fueled rage.

The shock of the frankness of the experiences is almost mind numbing.

Many of the cast identify themselves by first name.

One of the film's subjects claims that half of his high school graduating class has died from drug overdoses.

Dunne is unrepentant about the man's statements.

"It may or may not be true," he said. "This is their story. That is his perspective. I tried to let them tell the story from their point of view."

Oxyana reveals mountaineers using a variety of numbers and percentages about everything from homelessness, overdoses and hepatitis C cases to babies born addicted to methadone. Dunne said verifying those numbers wasn't his mission.

Despite the controversy over portrayals of rampant drug abuse, there is one figure that's impossible to refute: Wyoming County has the highest per-capita rate of fatal overdoses in the state. It led West Virginia in 2011 and came in second behind McDowell the previous four years. McDowell County borders Wyoming and Logan counties.

After the movie's world premiere at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, the film received a Special Jury Mention in the World Documentary Competition, as well as a nod for Best New Documentary Director.

The film had not been released to theaters because of a low budget. It was filmed for a little more than $50,000. The money was raised at kickstarter.com

Oxyana will be available for purchase via the film¹s website http://www.oxyana.com on July 1, 2013.

The film will be available as a digital rental for $3.99 or a digital download for $9.99. Additionally, DVDs can be purchased for $20 and
Blu-ray discs for $25.

The trailer can be seen here: http://vimeo.com/m/64510723

Emery Jeffreys began reporting the news at The Logan Banner, about 30 miles from Oceana. He also worked as reporter for United Press International.