Congratulations to reporter Dave Boucher, who has won a monthly award from Digital First Media for his coverage of the controversial film “Oxyana,” which focuses on prescription drug abuse in southern West Virginia.
Dave, who is a seemingly tireless reporter, invested his time and interest in the story, using the film as a launching point for a discussion of southern West Virginia, prescription drug abuse and ethics.
He started with three stories about public reaction to “Oxyana,” a look at what the actual numbers of prescription drug abuse reveal and a discussion of possible solutions — and continued to cover the film and public debate after that.
Here’s what one of the judges said:
Wow, this was an easy choice to make. I’m going with the terrific series by Dave Boucher of the Daily Mail. These stories were really well written, and each time the lede captured my attention right away. Combine that with resource after resource, and it was like a book I could not put down. Of course, the subject had a lot to do with why it was so good. But Mr. Boucher did the type of reporting that should make any of us proud. Really a fine, fine job.
This is Dave’s entry. It explains his reporting approach and the results:
The state of West Virginia and filmmakers have a sordid history, leaving residents a little hesitant to work with any film crews. Not surprisingly then, citizens of the small town of Oceana were up in arms over descriptions of their home in a documentary called “Oxyana.”
Although most of the roughly 1,400 residents of the Southern West Virginia town haven’t seen the film, the depictions in trailers and descriptions online infuriated many. They say the descriptions depicted a town with no hope, decimated and overwhelmed by drugs. They accused the filmmaker of skewing the facts in order to make a quick buck.
At the same time, they admit there is a drug problem in the county. Several residents called a community meeting to discuss the documentary and the area’s drug problem.
After learning about the community meeting, I decided I’d like to see the film and head to Oceana. The filmmaker declined to comment or send a copy, so I relied on the trailers, several online descriptions, a review from a West Virginia documentary filmmaker who had seen the film and a participant in the film who had also send the documentary. I also spent a day in the town, talking to law enforcement, business owners and a pastor.
It raised a larger question that lead to a three-part series: perception of Oxyana vs. reality of Oceana when it comes to prescription pill abuse in Southern West Virginia.
First, I wanted to look at the documentary itself and how the town felt about the documentary. Many residents thought statements made by people in the trailer were not true, and it was the filmmakers fault for putting them in the movie. At the same time, all of the participants are residents, which means some obviously feel there’s a problem.
In the second piece, I tried to find the facts and figures of prescription pill abuse in the area and Southern West Virginia as a whole. More than 65 people have died from drug-related incidents in the county since 2011. Babies are born addicted to drugs, typically Oxycodone, at a far higher rate in the local hospital than nationally. I also looked at the history of OxyContin usage in Appalachia, and how abuse of the addictive drug became so prevalent.
Finally, the third piece looks at possible solutions to the problems. Those include increased economic development efforts, which can help battle the rampant poverty of the area. It can also give people hope.
Since the series ran, there has been increased attention to the area and the problem. Sen. Joe Manchin, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall and other officials attended the community meeting in Oceana, which attracted more than 200 local people. Local and national media outlets, including The Denver Post, picked up the stories as well.
Dave’s award represented the DFMie for May in the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/West Virginia cluster of Digital First Media, which manages 70-plus daily newspapers across the country.
Way to go Dave, and keep up the great work.