CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At New York's Tribeca Film Festival, viewers saw a horrifying documentary showing how painkiller addiction wrecked an Appalachian town, after the coal industry faded.
"Oceana, a once-bustling mining town in West Virginia, now is decimated by OxyContin addiction to the point where the media have rebranded it 'Oxyana,'" a festival report said.
One grim young Oceana resident says in the film: "I'm 23. Half my graduating class is dead."
The movie shows hopeless, jobless, doomed people using dope to escape the futility of their lives. As a couple "shoot up" on a bed, the woman says, "I never had no self-esteem." The report continues:
"In a matter of 15 years, a normal community where people felt safe raising their kids has become a town where it is common for teenage girls to prostitute themselves for money. Oceana was a place where you didn't feel the need to lock your doors. Now, it is tortured by violence ....
"West Virginia leads the country in prescription overdoses. A doctor at Raleigh General Hospital says that half of the babies in the nursery are on methodone ... [West Virginia] recorded 91 overdose deaths in 2001. By 2008 that number had risen to 390."
As coal mines played out in Wyoming County, desolation grew. "Drugs created an economy in the town," one Oceana resident says.
Filmmaker Sean Dunne -- who won the Best New Documentary Director Award at the Tribeca Festival -- says he and his crew were traveling across Appalachia when they stopped at Oceana, because a friend had praised the nearby Hatfield-McCoy ATV trail. They picked up a young hitchhiker, who casually injected OxyContin into his hand and described wide-open painkiller usage there. So the crew returned last summer to interview abusers who seemed almost relieved to tell of their plight.
"That black cloud of desperation and the senseless cruelty that hopelessness breeds was pretty inescapable," the director said.
We assume this film shows only the worst side of the region, not presenting brighter facets. Nonetheless, the waste of lives cries out for some type of help. State leaders, legislators and police should team up to seek possible rescue steps for pathetic folks trapped in dead-end misery after coal died and dope moved in.