The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Breaking News

Local News

June 14, 2012

‘Oxyana’: Filmmaker documenting area pill problem

A documentary filmmaker in New York City is working on a new project to bring light to the devastating drug problem in southern West Virginia.

Sean Dunne has filmed several short documentaries, but this project, titled “Oxyana,” will be his first feature-length film, which will primarily focus on Oceana and Pineville in Wyoming County.

“I grew up the son of a prescription pill addict and I know the depths of what this disease can do to people and can do to a place,” Dunne said. “It was something that felt personal to me and we decided to pursue it.”

Dunne has faced skepticism from Oceana residents who fear that this project will shed more negative light on their hometown, further embedding the stereotypes set forth in the film “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.”

“That couldn’t be further from what we’re trying to do. We’re serious. We’re not looking to make fun of anybody. We’re looking to give a voice to people that don’t often get heard.”

Dunne said he was traveling in January with a friend, Johnny Corndawgs, a country musician from Virginia, to Nashville and they opted to take a scenic route through West Virginia.

“He mentioned that we should stop through Oceana and Pineville where he used to go ATVing.”

During their initial visit, they met several people who told them about the ongoing drug problem in the area.

“We hung out for a few days and talked to some more people and we kept hearing the same story over and over.”

He said they went back in April and at that point, the growing drug problem was even more apparent.

“We said, ‘Why not give it a shot? Why not try to get this story out there?’”

“Oxyana” will be the first hard-hitting subject Dunne has focused on.

Some of this other projects have been shown at film festivals all over the world and have gained some popularity.

Dunne hopes to visit Wyoming County once more for further filming and hopes to have everything wrapped up by the end of the year.

He says he hopes to start showing the documentary in January.

“Over and over we kept hearing a lot of heartbreak ... People getting hurt in the mines or getting hurt on the job, for whatever reason are being prescribed drugs that should really only be prescribed for end-stage cancer patients. They’re being prescribed this stuff for injuries.”

He said from the stories they have gathered so far, people said the problem just spiraled out of control, from parents’ medicine cabinets to their kids to their kids’ friends.

“A good amount of people in that area in Wyoming County have gotten hooked on this stuff.”

He said in a lot of the interviews, people said “It’s the only thing around here. It’s the only thing to do. There’s no place to go or do anything within an hour.”

“I found that really sad. I was raised in a small town and I know how that can be.”

No matter what the residents’ opinions about the film were, Dunne said they all agree that there is a major problem and the area needs some help.

“Everyone we spoke to welcomed us into their lives and told us all of their stories. They were very forthcoming and honest with us.”

Many people told him that without going to Beckley, there really is no form of help in the area.

“There are some faith-based recovery groups, but from what we’ve heard, that doesn’t always work. They’re going through some tough times.”

What Dunne is really trying to do, he says, is to spark some dialogue about this issue.

“All I can hope is that these documentaries create some rational dialogue that can hopefully bring some attention to this problem and then hopefully then get some help for the area.”

Dunne is still looking to hear from and film anyone who is willing to share their story.

“We have gotten a lot of positive stories on camera. We have gotten people who have never touched drugs in their lives and have lived very positive lives in that area. I’ve heard from people that were once addicted, who found ways to get clean and stay clean while in that area. Those cases unfortunately were the minority. We really want to give a fair and accurate portrayal of this town.”

For more information or to share your story, send an e-mail to

— E-mail:


Text Only
Local News