DENVER (KDVR) — According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021 was the deadliest year on record for drug overdose deaths.

Nearly 108,000 people died, and about two-thirds of the deaths involved fentanyl or a similar substance.

Those numbers are tough for the Smith family to hear. Noah Smith struggled with substance use for years but is turning his life around. 

The 22-year-old from Colorado is nearly two years into recovery and is working as a wilderness therapy guide. “I found purpose and passion through helping others,” he said. 

Ten years ago the family lost their home in the Waldo Canyon Fire, and Smith was struggling.

“I started using mind-altering substances at a pretty young age and it sent me off the deep end,” he said.

He used different drugs over the years and knows at times those included fentanyl.

“My dealer would look at me and be like, be really careful with this one,” he said.

Smith went to rehab a few times, and finally became fed up with how he was living. He said a change in the way his family talked to him, helped to pull him through.

“As opposed to feeling accused and feeling shame added on, I noticed myself feeling like they care about me, they love me, even though they don’t support my decisions,” he said.

Now his mother, Lisa Smith, is working as a certified family recovery coach at Reclaim and Recover LLC. She helps families of people struggling with substance use disorder.

“It’s about connection. It’s about love. It’s about compassion. It’s about meeting someone where they are at,” Lisa said. 

She said with so much fentanyl in the community, families can no longer wait for their loved one to “hit rock bottom.”

“People using substances are dying at alarming and very fast rates. There’s just no room for experimentation anymore,” she said. 

Now she and her son want other families to know there is hope.

“No matter how deep into it they are, there is a way out,” Smith said.

“Families can heal, and people can get better,” Lisa said.