OCEANA, W.Va. -- A new documentary that almost no one has seen has outraged citizens of Oceana, but it has also galvanized them to take action and fight the prescription drug abuse epidemic that afflicts the town and so many like it.
Oceana residents held a town meeting Friday night with some of West Virginia's top politicians -- Sen. Joe Manchin, Rep. Nick Rahall and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant -- to discuss the documentary "Oxyana."
Everyone agrees on at least one thing: Oceana has a prescription drug problem.
Larry Mathis, a longtime Oceana resident and Wyoming County commissioner, was visibly emotional as he talked about seeing his youngest son's two friends die from drug abuse.
"These boys used to come to my house, play tee-ball -- I coached them," Mathis said. "There was a picture upstairs of those three boys, and he [Mathis' son] was in the middle. And he said, 'Dad, what's the matter with this picture?' And the only answer I had was, 'Son, two guys made a wrong choice in life and one guy made the right choice.'"
About 200 people came to Friday's meeting, a fairly extraordinary number for a town of fewer than 1,400. Oceana Mayor John Roach said it was the largest turnout he'd seen in 40 years of going to town meetings.
Two themes emerged: The community must band together to save itself from prescription drugs, and the bleak, hellish picture painted by the "Oxyana" preview trailer is terribly unfair to this picturesque coal mining town.
"With one brush of his artistic pen, he attempted to define Oceana and its residents as a place of hopelessness," said D.J. Morgan, an Oceana resident and the meeting's organizer.
"Oxyana" was screened in April at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, and its director, Sean Dunne, won best new documentary director.
But it has not been screened since then, and Dunne, through a spokeswoman, declined interview requests until the film is released on a wide scale.
So all Oceana residents have to go on is a two-minute video on the movie's website.
Obviously trailers are made to sell movies and, thus, tend to exaggerate, but the "Oxyana" trailer shows a town that's impossible to reconcile with the hardworking, resolute citizens who came to Friday's meeting.
Set to an ominous soundtrack of brooding fiddle and foreboding drumbeat, the trailer gives a parade of anonymous voices that exaggerate a serious problem to pandemic proportions:
"Half my graduating class is dead. I'm 23 years old."
"I've seen 8-, 9-, 10-year-old kids shooting dope."
"If it wasn't for drugs in this town, there wouldn't be no town."
"A lot of stuff that happens here is just not normal."
Officials and citizens said that, unfortunately, the problems of Oceana are actually far too normal.
In 2010, more than 16,500 people nationwide died from abusing prescription painkillers, a death rate four times higher than in 1999, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those painkillers -- including hydrocodone and OxyContin -- the drug that gives the movie its name -- account for the largest share of drug overdoses nationwide, which now have increased for 11 consecutive years.