Published April 19, 2013
In the town of Oceana, West Virginia, oxycontin addiction is spreading like wildfires. Nicknamed “Oxyana,” the area has become a danger zone, as the prescription-pill addicted populous poses a threat to the area and to themselves.
That’s the struggle director Sean Dunne, 31, set out to portray, with his documentary “Oxyana,” which is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday night.
To make his film, Dunne traveled from Brooklyn, N.Y., to West Virginia and spent six weeks in Oceana.
“It was the scariest place I’ve ever been, the most beautiful but scariest,” he told FOX 411. “The people there are great, but people do some awful things on this drug.”
The characters in Dunne’s film tell horrifying stories of the way oxycontin has affected their lives, whether they wanted it to or not.
“Every person I know personally knows somebody who has O.D.ed and died,” an area dentist tells the cameras during the movie. He is one of the few sober people featured in the film.
“Half of my graduating class is dead because of pills,” another Oceana resident explains. “I am 23 years old. Last year I helped bury three of my friends… It’s sad.”
Dunne’s message with the film is clear: Prescription pills have ruined this town and these people. But the residents want to change that, he said.
“Every single person that we talked to said ‘we need help here. We need a methadone clinic. We need a rehab center.’ There is no way for people to get clean there unless they just go cold turkey. It’s a really desperate situation,” he said.
The few Oceana residents who have managed to stay sober appear shaken by the impact the drug has had on their area. Several subjects in the film detail the violence in Oceana, which comes mostly from the addicts, who will do anything to get their hands on some money or pills.
“Old people coming out of the pharmacy, [the addicts] will just hit them and beat them to death and take whatever they got,” one woman explains.
Another man, tells the chilling story of his mother and brother, who were murdered by his father, seemingly after a disagreement over oxycontin. His father then committed suicide.
And Dunne said some anger was directed at him when word got out that he planned to make a film about the town’s struggle.
“We got death threats when the film was announced,” he said. “We were forced to take some security measures. We had some people with us who kept an eye on us.”
But he said the residents who agreed to appear in the film were shockingly open about their illegal drug use, not hesitating to be filmed shooting up oxycontin.
Their rampant drug use hit close to home for Dunne, who first came across the small town while traveling with friends and quickly decided he wanted to capture it on film.
“This was something I grew up around, unfortunately. I had a very close family member struggle with prescription pill addiction. That dark, hopelessness had a profound affect on me.”
Overall, Dunne’s film is an up-close look at a society that has basically given up, both on their town and on themselves. Yet, while his film shows the problem at hand it, for the most part, avoids the political "war on drugs." In fact, the movie offers no solution to Oceana’s problem at all.
“I think if the film shows anything it’s that there really is no easy solution to this problem,” he said. “I think if I had any hope for this film it could be that it would inspire the initial dialogue and put a face to this issue.”