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The Heroin Hearse in the Overdose Capital of America

Apr 09, 2019 | 831 videos
Video by Ryan Buckley

“Inject Heroin. Reject Life.” These stark words are scrawled across the side of Dwayne Wood’s hearse, which he drives daily through the streets of Huntington, West Virginia. His message is not subtle, but in the overdose capital of America, Wood simply won’t beat around the bush.

“People may turn their nose up at us and think our approach is inappropriate,” Wood says in Ryan Buckley’s short documentary, Heroin Hearse, premiering on The Atlantic today. “Our approach is straight-out, rub the sand in your face, we’re in an epidemic. Period. This hearse is the final result.”

Buckley, who was born and raised in Huntington, still considers Appalachia his home. But when he visits now, he can hardly recognize the place. “If you grew up where I did,” he told me, “you’ve undoubtedly lost friends or family to addiction. Everyone in my hometown carries this pain with them. It’s part of life.” While filming Heroin Hearse, Buckley was disturbed by what he described as an “unnerving nonchalance” that he observed when locals discussed their deceased friends and family. “Loss is part of the fabric of this area, and talking about it is no different to them than chatting about the weather.”

This complacency is exactly what Wood hopes to disrupt with his unique brand of activism. “He’s got the charisma of a pastor and the cachet of a Hell's Angel,” Buckley said. In the film, Woods is seen staging public demonstrations and leading efforts to clean up needles from the streets. He focuses his efforts on one addict, Dominique, whom he encourages to detox for the sake of his children. “What can I do, personally—myself—to help you to stop chasing the ghost, and chase life?” he asks Dominique. Their interactions put a human face on the epidemic.

“I was surprised how open people were about baring their souls and sharing their darkest moments with us,” Buckley said. “These stories are begging to be told. And the victims of addiction are begging loudest.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.