Newly-launched nonprofit aims to take down opioid crisis in Triad and beyond

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- A local nonprofit is now up and running, aimed at fighting the opioid epidemic in the Triad and -- if all goes as planned -- beyond.

“People were dying,” said Kerri Sigler, a former public defender and founder of Phoenix Rising of Winston-Salem. “Everyone in the courthouse knew people – multiple people – who had died.”

Sigler said in the middle of 2016, she noticed a rise in overdoses and drug-related offenses.

“It was generally young people, who had a life, had a family and now they’re staring at me in jumpsuits through plate glass,” she said.

Forsyth County’s drug court was shut down in 2011, after state funding was no longer provided. Sigler tells FOX8 that, on Nov. 2, 2016, she began making phone calls to get core support to get the drug court restarted.

“It’s not the usual treadmill of in, guilty, out; in, guilty, out,” she detailed.

Sigler said that the drug court would be post-plea court; meaning if a person charged with a crime expressed to their attorney that they have a problem with addiction, they would be screened to be sure addiction is their primary issue. Once that’s confirmed, the defendant would either plead guilty, or be found guilty and ask the judge to sentence them into drug treatment court.

“That sentence looks like super-hyped-up probation times 10,” Sigler added.

The defendant would then come to drug court twice a month and have a probation officer assigned to them with a personalized drug treatment plan. They would be provided therapy, medication management, recidivism reduction, and parenting and job training. It is the court’s job, Sigler said, to monitor the person.

“You’ll have gotten the treatment you need, which will be at no cost to you,” she said.

If unsuccessful, the person would receive their suspended sentence.

Sigler said the drug court is about recovery, not punishment, adding that drug court reduces crime 45 percent more than other sentencing options.

But, through her research, Sigler realized that the solution to the opioid crisis goes beyond drug court, and at the end of 2016, she began setting up a nonprofit now known as Phoenix Rising of Winston-Salem.

Sigler then began to form a board, which includes Claudia Marini, the mother of Madison Marini, who was 22 years old when she overdosed on heroin in the bathroom of the Taco Bell where she worked in King on Dec. 29, 2016.

“Meeting Kerri, and realizing what she’s doing, gave me like a tiny shred of hope,” Marini said.

Marini, who was visibly devastated when FOX8 first went to speak with her at her home following Madison’s death, is now finding strength in using her story to help others dealing with addiction.

“My heart is shattered, and so for me, Phoenix Rising is very important,” Marini said. “It’s the reason, part of the reason I get up every day, because I know that I have to make a difference and this is how I’m gonna do it.”

Marini is part of the nonprofit’s treatment committee, where they plan to come up with a system and criteria to get addicts the help they need regardless of their circumstance.

“I couldn’t save Maddie and I can’t let her death be for absolutely nothing,” Marini said.

At the end of May, Phoenix Rising of Winston-Salem became 501(c)(3) applied. Although there is a six-month waiting period, their application means they can start fundraising. On June 1, the nonprofit was officially launched.

In an eight-day period, they have already raised nearly $9,000. Their funding goal is $100,000 by the end of the calendar year and $250,000 by June 1, 2018.

“We’re [going to] start at home, and the more support we have, the farther we’re [going to] reach,” Sigler said.

Marini and Sigler said they hope to be able to help fight the opioid crisis in neighboring counties, states and beyond.

“People should just brace themselves, because what Phoenix Rising is about to do is [going to] be pretty remarkable,” Marini said.