Beckley, W.Va. (Sept. 6, 2023) – The New River Gorge Regional Development Authority (NRGRDA) offered its congratulations on the appointment of NRGRDA Board Member Gregory A. Duckworth, to the West Virginia First Foundation, the private foundation created to distribute the state’s more than one billion dollars in opioid settlement funds.
Jina Belcher, NRGRDA’s executive director, said “The NRGRDA is very pleased to have representation on this prestigious board. Greg will offer an experienced and compelling voice to help address many important issues that impact our communities and economic development. His role on this foundation board is paramount to ensuring Raleigh County and all of Southern West Virginia are represented when determining the highest and best use of funds to combat the opioid epidemic.” Duckworth has served Raleigh county as Commissioner since 2021 and is a 26-year veteran of the West Virginia State Police.
On August 28, Gov. Jim Justice announced the appointment of five people who will serve on the board of the West Virginia First Foundation. The other six members of the committee were nominated by local governments throughout the state.
West Virginia leads the nation with the highest overdose death rate. The foundation was created as an initiative of the Attorney General’s office, the state agency responsible for litigating the state’s opioid cases.
Belcher said the four counties NRGRDA serves have been hard hit and are on notice. She said in 2018 Raleigh County was fourth in the state in highest numbers of overdose deaths. According to state records, Raleigh County ranked sixth in the state for vulnerability to all-drug overdose mortality. Raleigh was considered “most vulnerable,” while Fayette and Summers “more vulnerable” and Nicholas “vulnerable.” She said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranked the four counties “at risk” of outbreaks of HIV and/or hepatitis C nationwide. Of 220 counties designated by CDC as “at risk,” Raleigh County ranked 18th; Fayette County 27th; Nicholas County 98th; and Summers County 110th.
The West Virginia First Foundation will distribute nearly three quarters of the settlement money won by the state in lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors in West Virginia. The other dollars will be allocated to local communities, and three percent will remain in trust. All funds must be used to address the opioid crisis through evidence-based addiction treatment, recovery and prevention programs, or supporting law enforcement efforts to curtail drug distribution.
Belcher said dispelling concerns about the Mountain State’s substance use issues is an impediment to economic progress in attracting new industry and creating skilled, well-paying jobs. “Our region is a leader in creating the Communities of Healing recovery to work program, based on the successful Fruits of Labor model, and we are employing every asset we can to help those in recovery, as well as their families,” she said. “We stand ready to support Greg and the foundation in creating additional innovative programming and resources to combat the crisis we all recognize and consider his appointment a success for Southern WV.” Other advancements include: