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'Oxyana' an accurate look at W.Va. drug epidemic, panel says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A film that many feared would portray one Southern West Virginia community in a negative light is an accurate depiction of prescription pill addiction in the state, members of a panel concluded Tuesday night.

The West Virginia International Film Festival showed the documentary "Oxyana" to more than 300 people at the Park Place Cinemas in Charleston. The documentary focuses on Oceana in Wyoming County and the region's well-documented prescription drug abuse epidemic.

A three-person panel got together after the movie and discussed the film, which they agreed is a raw, emotional look at opiate addiction.

"It really hit home. It hit on all parts of being an addict," said Kelly Sizemore, a recovering opiate addict who is now a social worker. "The drug problem is everywhere today. It's not just in Oceana, it's in every small town in West Virginia."

Sizemore said a court-ordered drug diversion plan helped her quit an addiction to shooting up OxyContin. She's been clean for five years and is now helping families in similar situations.

The three-person panel included Sizemore, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin and Kim Miller, director of development for Prestera.

They focused on the message of "Oxyana" and how to help drug addicts get into recovery. The film features a handful of nameless residents talking about their struggles with OxyContin addiction.

"This film is as realistic as a person can get but it ends there," Miller said. "If only the people using drugs are shown then that is a sad image. They won't see that there is hope, that there is recovery out there."

Miller said Prestera often treats drug addicts for free. All addicts are different, she said, and it's a matter of finding the right program for that person.

"You don't have to have motivation," she said. "You can get into recovery kicking and screaming."

Some of the people depicted in the film discussed taking methadone, a narcotic substitute therapy drug, and Suboxone, a drug that curves opiate cravings.

Miller said Prestera does not give out methadone, which has a good success rate but high recidivism, which is a relapse into illegal behavior. However, several Prestera clinics prescribe Suboxone, which has a varied success rate and low recidivism, she said.

The panel agreed that jailing or imprisoning drug addicts fuels the epidemic and does not help anyone kick their drug habits. Sizemore said she was once locked up in the Southern Regional Jail with one of the women featured in the film.

"Jail did nothing for me. Yes, I deserved to be there; I will take ownership of that," Sizemore said. "But the only thing jail did was help me get better connections when I got out."

Benjamin touted the success of drug courts, which will become standard in all 55 counties by 2017. There are currently 30 counties with drug courts, he said. About 500 people have graduated from the program.

Benjamin said the program is working but could be better. He hopes expanding the drug courts to all 55 counties increases the graduation rate.

For adult drug courts, the recidivism rate is at a low 14 percent, Benjamin said. If those people had gone to jail over treatment, their chances of going back to drugs would increase to about 80 percent, he said. Juvenile drug courts have a high graduation rate and a high recidivism rate, Benjamin said, but the recidivism rate is lower than the national average.

"The best thing about being a judge is holding a drug-free baby born from a woman who was addicted to narcotics and completed the drug court program," Benjamin said.

The panel members said the film opened a dialogue they hope will continue into activism.

"You've seen the film," Miller said. "You can't hide anymore. We have to get these people help. We have to get them into recovery."

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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