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Discussion on public safety addresses issues facing Charleston, specifically crystal meth

Charleston Police Chief Steve Cooper talks to a group in Kanawha City Tuesday night about the issues facing the city, specifically the crystal methamphetamine epidemic. (WCHS/WVAH)

Charleston police spoke with the public Tuesday in Kanawha City about the issues facing the city, specifically the crystal methamphetamine epidemic.

Chief Steve Cooper said the Metro Drug Enforcement Network Team in Kanawha County has seized nearly 12,000 grams of crystal meth in just its first six months, and it's heading for upwards of 25,000 grams. He said that is a huge jump from just a few years ago when police were only getting about 2,000 to 3,000 grams off the streets per year.

Those numbers are much higher than the amount of heroin being seized off the streets right now, he said.

Cooper said those drugs often come from the Detroit and Atlanta areas.

"We're seeing a huge influx of crystal meth," Cooper said. "It's made in labs. It's over 90 percent pure. We've actually seen fentanyl in some of the crystal meth, which is a really strange combination, so we're seeing some things that are out of the ordinary."

Meanwhile, the meeting was also a forum for a heated exchange between candidates running for Charleston mayor.

The issue of the needle exchange program was brought up by Republican mayoral candidate J.B. Akers.

Akers said he's researched the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department's program, and he was against it because of several flaws. Akers said his opponent was for it. Democratic mayoral candidate Amy Goodwin disagreed, saying that was not true. Some of the crowd started yelling that he was lying.

Goodwin has said previously the program was important to stop the spread of diseases, and it would be shortsighted to end it, but it needed to undergo changes like the rules followed by Health Right's Harm Reduction Program.

"The needle exchange program that was implemented, not on my watch, but by the previous administration, was abysmal," Goodwin said. "You hear from the police, you hear from the fire, there were needles being found everywhere. But even the chief of police has said we need an evidence-based program for those who are going to use needles. It's been implemented at Health Right. I agree with those rules that have been in place."

Akers said he is against the program.

"I think it's important for voters to know whether they agree with me or whether they agree with her, they need to know where we stand on these specific issues. I would never say I want to explore something like a safe injection site. That's a clear distinction between she and I. I am not for a sanctuary for intravenous drug use. She said she would explore it. I say we don't," he said.

Eyewitness News will keep you updated as the race for mayor continues.

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