OCEANA, W.Va. - Denial is a common aspect of drug addiction.
Addicts deny they have a problem. There are excuses. There are promises. There is evasion.
There is no progress when there is denial. There is no hope.
Residents of Oceana, a town of 1,400 people in Wyoming County, don't deny the community has a drug problem.
But they want to prove allegations raised in a new documentary film that Oceana doesn't have hope just aren't true.
In late April, documentary filmmaker Sean Dunne's project "Oxyana" debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival.
"Oxyana" is a nickname some use for the town. It combines the town name of Oceana and the prescription pain medication OxyContin. The film chronicles the substance abuse battles of some who live there.
"Oxyana" earned Dunne the festival's best new documentary director award and praise from national reviewers. Through a representative, Dunne declined a request for an interview and a copy of the film.
"Oxyana" raised the ire of many local residents.
"I think that throughout the history of West Virginia, outsiders have always came in and mischaracterized our residents for stories in newspapers that were sold across the country for nothing more than a dog and pony show, and I think that is exactly what Mr. Dunne has created," county resident D.J. Morgan said.
That's one of the reasons why Morgan and City Councilman Jim Cook are organizing a May 31 community meeting at Oceana Middle School.
They want to let residents share their frustrations about the film, said Morgan, an attorney by training who works for the county school board. But it can be the start of something more.
"It's going to be the chance . . . to be honest with ourselves and realize there is a drug problem here and we need to take our town back and our county back," Morgan said.
A change of heart
Bishop P. Randall Bowles, leader of the Oceana Church of God for the past 14 years, has two children and a church filled with electronic and musical equipment. He doesn't lock the church's backdoor. Almost 300 people come to his services every Sunday.
The 43-year-old Maryland native feels safe in his community and sees hope in the town.
He saw a different representation of the town in the trailer for "Oxyana."
"If you go through Oceana, don't stop. Don't get gasoline, don't stop and eat a burger, you better hit the pedal to the metal and get through there because if you stop, you know, next thing you know you're going to be addicted to drugs," Bowles said.
"Somebody's going to bind you up, take you and kidnap you, shoot you up and you're going to be addicted."
There is an addiction problem in Oceana, Bowles said. But his church and others in the community work against it every day. The church has a licensed counselor, and he provides "biblical counseling." They partner with faith-based nonprofit One Voice to provide more services to addicts looking to change their lives.
The church goes to areas where "we know parents aren't actively involved in children's lives," Bowles said. They cook food, offer games, provide care in the summer. Hundreds of kids attend their Wednesday night services.
Bowles also serves as "police chaplain" for the local department. He goes with officers when they respond to fatal car crashes or other incidents that might require a pastor. In all of these experiences, he has seen drugs. But he thinks the rampant poverty in the area is the real culprit for despair.
"If what has been propagated in your life, your entire lifetime and put into your heart is that you are impoverished, that there is no hope, that you're never going to be anything, that you're never going to do anything, it doesn't take long until you start believing that," Bowles said. "And so you have to change the heart."
That change can happen without a community meeting, but he hopes the meeting inspires more action. People carve out time in their day for sports, school and work. A little time to help a neighborhood could go a long way, he said.
The government could help as well. Bowles said he has heard of addicts returning to the streets within hours of being arrested. He's not sure where, but he thinks something in the judicial system isn't working.
State government officials have taken steps they believe will address prescription pill abuse.
In late 2012, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced the allocation of $7.5 million to create regional substance abuse service centers. This year the state Legislature passed a bill prompted by Tomblin that attempts to create a legal limit for the amount of medication someone can have in their body while driving, similar to ones in place for alcohol.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin is "devoting substantial resources" into going after drug dealers in southern West Virginia, according to an emailed statement. The statement particularly pointed to Mercer, McDowell and Wyoming counties.
"We are continuing our efforts, but this is not a battle that will be won overnight. It's also not a battle that will be won by law enforcement alone," Goodwin said in the release.