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South City man regains custody of son after recovering from fentanyl, alcohol use

<i></i><br/>Justin Smith regains custody of his son after recovering from fentanyl and alcohol use.
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Justin Smith regains custody of his son after recovering from fentanyl and alcohol use.

By Matt Woods

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    ST. LOUIS, Missouri (KMOV) — Balloons with the words “Welcome home” were tied to the staircase in front of Justin Smith’s South City apartment Thursday morning. He was finally about to get his son back after a long – and still ongoing – road in fentanyl and alcohol recovery.

At one point last year, Smith said he was living in a vacant house with no water or electricity. He was on court supervision for a burglary he committed to buy money for drugs. He had lost his son to the state because of his addiction.

But last Thursday, he showed what was possible to accomplish in substance use recovery. He got back custody of his son after going through treatment and recovery, straightening out his criminal record, and months of supervised visits.

“I’ve been introducing how things are gonna be different,” he said, “cause obviously things are gonna be different now than it was when I was a fentanyl addict because I was very negligent. I didn’t really have any structure for him.”

Smith was featured in News 4′s 2022 documentary “Contaminated: the fentanyl crisis in St. Louis,” which highlighted his and others’ journey through fentanyl recovery.

Getting released from court supervision in 2022 helped Smith get one step closer to getting back custody of his son.

“The only thing that would have made this better is if they walked my son out right then and there,” Smith said outside the 22nd Circuit Court last April.

A phone call with the Department of Social Services last Tuesday, more than a year after that day in court, came with the news that he had longed to hear: his son was coming home, this time for good.

“It was just amazing to hear that he’s finally getting to come home and be comfortable back as a family again,” he said.

Smith attributed his success in recovery to the support he has around him. People like his mother and Art Deno, the man who got Smith connected to treatment and recovery services.

“What has helped me get to this point is really my group of people that is my support circle,” Smith said. “Art Deno and the ACPD program is a huge part of it. Not only did he send me out to the recovery program but I’ve done podcasts with him, I keep in contact with him.”

Deno lost his 19-year-old son, Austin, to a fentanyl overdose. He started a foundation and named it ACPD, his son’s initials. Getting Smith into a recovery program meant giving him a chance to start over.

“I’m proud of you brother,” Deno said over the phone to Smith after he got off court supervision in 2022. “Keep doing what you’re doing.”

Now a full-time single parent, Smith will have to rely on his support circle going forward. Two of the biggest factors in successful substance use recovery, housing and jobs, have allowed Smith to regain stability. He has his own apartment, works at a pasta factory and also does construction on the side.

He’s made it to this point by taking it one step at a time.

“The best thing I can say is to not look at the top of the staircase, just to focus on the first step in making it to the top,” Smith said. “You gotta take it slowly, everything’s not gonna happen overnight. And the more you focus on the big picture in the future, I think it’s a lot harder for you to focus on that first step.”

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