The film "Oxyana" takes a look at the drug problems facing the community of Oceana in Wyoming County. The situation in the southern coalfields is bad, but it is not hopeless.
"I will be the first to admit there is a drug problem, just not to the extent (in the film)," Oceana Councilman Jim Cook told the Daily Mail's Dave Boucher.
"But I don't know a community in West Virginia or the United States that doesn't have a problem."
In the southern coalfields, many good people are working on the problem:
- U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and his staff are taking on the pill mills.
- Drug companies have re-formulated their oxycodone medications to help thwart abuse. Federal regulators refused to allow generic versions of the original formulations of these pills when the patents expire.
- The Legislature adopted a prison reform bill that includes treatment for drug abusers as an alternative to incarceration.
- Reconnecting McDowell is a private-public venture that hopes to improve conditions in that county.
But there is a lack of resources. Southern Highlands Community Mental Health Center opened a drug-treatment program in Welch that takes 24 people at a time. The waiting list immediately grew to 143.
There is also the thorniness of trying to go undercover to enforce the law in towns so small that everyone knows whom the law enforcement officers are and people distrust outsiders.
Still there are people, like the late Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum, who are willing to take up this challenge.
Their efforts are slowing the death toll. Prescription drug deaths fell in Wyoming County from 41 in 2011 to 21 last year to six so far this year.
But people need to recognize that drug addiction is just one of the symptoms of a more systemic illness - unemployment. There are more pills available than there are jobs.
This pain is not unique to West Virginia. The Bronx in New York City suffers a higher unemployment rate than any county in the southern coalfields.
West Virginia's northern coalfields are making the transition from the coal industry with the FBI Fingerprinting Center in Harrison County and the high-tech corridor along Interstate 79.
The southern coalfields have not - yet.