Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Oxyana

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I am a huge fan of the FX series Justified, a show about drug trafficking and Southern “mountain justice.” Before I saw the documentary Oxyana, I had a hard time believing that characters like Boyd Crowder actually existed in real life. Now, I suspect that if the town of Oceana, West Virginia was adapted into a TV show, people wouldn't believe the insanity happening in this real town.

Oxyana examines the effects of Oxycontin on the tiny mountain town of Oceana. It is a forty-five minute drive to a bowling alley, movie theater, or anything to do other than fishing, hunting, or off-roading. The only legitimate job prospect is working in the coal mines. Approximately eighty percent of the population is addicted to Oxycontin, and everyone who isn't working in the coal mines is dealing drugs or giving cheap blow jobs to get them to their next fix.

The filmmakers are not as much interested in profiling the law enforcement side of drug trafficking as a show like Justified or Breaking Bad. They only have one interview from that perspective, and the only important piece of information is that the local law enforcement had to stop their drug busts because they couldn't keep up with the paperwork. Instead, the director puts their focus on the drug culture in Oceana that gets kids hooked on Oxycontin at a young age and then keeps them hooked, even as their money drains away and their friends and family members die from overdose.

Oxycontin is a dangerous drug for two main reasons. First, it is highly addictive. Once a person gets hooked on it, they will have a difficult time getting clean. Second, even if they sober up long enough to want to get clean, Oxycontin withdrawal can be deadly. A user cannot just decide to get clean on their own, they need someone to look after them to make sure they don't die. One of the interview subjects finds out that she is pregnant while participating in the documentary. She promises to check into rehab for the sake of her child, but seeing the newborns at the local hospital, it is clear that most addicted mothers don't make that choice.

Beyond Oxycontin's highly addictive formula, there is the problem of a small town with one main industry (coal mining) and nothing else. Oxycontin is an expensive addiction. One of the interview subjects admits that she won $12,000 from the lottery once, and she blew through all of it in one week. Dealing drugs is more appealing than prostitution and often pays better, so when dealers who also use Oxycontin decide to get clean, they are essentially giving up their livelihoods and their favorite hobby. Through the interviews and footage of nightlife in Oceana, the filmmakers show how this drug has engrained itself into the culture socially and economically.

The reason why Oxyana is such a fascinating and infuriating documentary is because of the people of Oceana. At times, they are tragic figures, slaves to a substance that has taken everything good from their lives. James' father murdered James' mother and brother presumably over hoarding their Oxycontin supply, and still he is counting down the minutes until his next hit. Another interview subject has multiple tumors growing throughout his body, including his brain, so he doesn't worry about getting clean. He just takes his next hit and prays to God for forgiveness, taking solace in Scripture. At other times, the ugly selfishness of addiction bleeds through as Jason's girlfriend talks about spending the last of their money so Jason get his fix and not get mean.

Is there any way to extricate Oxycontin from the culture of Oceana? Oxyana doesn't have the answer, but it shows that there can't be a simple answer to drug trafficking and addiction. Anyone expecting one doesn't understand the problem to begin with. What director Sean Dunne has done here is ask the right questions and humanize the issue of Oxycontin abuse by making his audience listen to the people who this issue affects the most.

Apr
21
2013
Rachel Kolb • Staff Writer

I love movies, writing, and breaking into song in public. You can follow me on Twitter @rachelekolb or check out more of my work at http://rachelekolb.wordpress.com.

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