CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Since 2011, more than 65 people have died in Wyoming County from drug-related incidents, said T.L. Riffe, a sergeant with the Wyoming County Sheriff's Office.
That includes murders that resulted from drug activity, but Riffe guessed probably 80 percent of the deaths were overdoses, mostly of prescription pills.
Abuse of the prescription pill OxyContin in Wyoming County and its largest city, Oceana, brought documentary filmmaker Sean Dunne to town. His film, "Oxyana," shows people talking about their struggles with the drug.
Many Oceana citizens are offended by the way Dunne represented the town in his trailer - most haven't seen the film because it isn't widely available. But they agree: There is a drug problem in Oceana.
"I will be the first to admit there is a drug problem, just not to the extent (in the film)," said Oceana Councilman Jim Cook. "But I don't know a community in West Virginia or the United States that doesn't have a problem."
In Southern West Virginia, law enforcement and health officials face that problem every day.
Change in crime
When Riffe started with the sheriff's office 28 years ago, the substance abuse calls were about alcohol. Now, 80 percent to 90 percent of the office's calls are drug-related.
The Kanawha County Sheriff's Office made almost twice as many arrests for marijuana as it did for prescription pills in 2012, according to data provided by the office.
In Wyoming County almost every drug-related arrest stems from prescription pills, Riffe said.
"Everybody knows there's a problem with prescription pills in our county," he said.
He's heard of "Oxyana" but doesn't know anything about the film. He said Oceana isn't any worse than anywhere else in the county when it comes to prescription pill abuse. Abuse is just as big a problem in Kentucky, Virginia and other states, he said.
Most people in Wyoming County don't abuse drugs, he said.
"It's a safety issue for the people abusing the drugs," Riffe said. "I don't think it's a safety issue for the people not abusing the drugs."
He said the number of drug deaths is decreasing, with 41 in 2011, 21 in 2012 and six so far this year.
County Clerk Mike Goode said that sounded right. From 2004 to 2011, the average person who died from an overdose was a little more than 39 years old, Goode added.
Oceana Police Chief Jeff Barlow has seen the film trailers. He was offended, like many in Oceana, but said drugs play a role in most of the crimes in his town.
Riffe said breaking and entering is the most common crime in the county, and the same offense keeps Barlow and his four fellow full-time officers busy.
Everyone knows who is dealing drugs in town, but Barlow said knowing something and proving something are very different. A solid case means confidential informants making drug buys to establish a pattern of peddling illegal substances.
It's hard to do that when the department doesn't have enough money to buy the drugs and everyone in town knows the officers, he said.
At the height of its abuse, Barlow said one 80-milligram OxyContin pill could fetch $100. Both he and Riffe said some steps have been taken that are helping. The manufacturer has made the drug harder to abuse, and officials are working harder to fight addiction.
History of abuse
Pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma created the drug in 1995, leading to billions of dollars in profits almost immediately.
But in 2007, the company paid more than $600 million in fines and other payments after pleading guilty to charges it misled the world about the drug's addictive and dangerous properties, according to the New York Times.
In 2010, the company reformulated the drug. The new version is harder to cut or break down for purposes of snorting or injecting.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the original form of OxyContin in April, determining "the benefits of original OxyContin no longer outweigh its risks," according to an agency press release.
Other drugs - namely methadone and Suboxone - are prescribed to wean patients off addictive prescription pills. Riffe said he's seen that make a difference.
However, those drugs also are narcotics and can be taken in excess or combined to create a high.
Stephen Anderson, who has an ATV shop in Oceana, said he knows people who have been on methadone for six years. Others mix methadone with Xanax, a medicine intended to relieve anxiety.
"Everybody in southern West Virginia calls it the hillbilly cocktail," Anderson said.