LAS VEGAS (KLAS)– Dozens gathered Wednesday to break down the walls of substance abuse and honor the lives lost on International Drug Overdose Awareness Day. 

“Recovery is a thesaurus,” recovering addict Paul Vautrinot said. “It’s not a dictionary.”

Powerful words were spoken by those who have seen the worst and started over. 

“I lived in the flood channels for a little bit,” George, a recovering addict recalled. “I’ve seen friends of mine overdose down there.”

People in long term recovery, who have turned into advocates stood up to share their journeys while also honoring the lives lost on International Overdose Awareness Day. 

“As much as I encourage the participation of the solution,” Vautrinot, who is also the director of Shine A Light, said. “The one thing I know, is I participated in the problem.”

A display of shoes in a “soles for souls” exhibit, represented the 619 people who died of drug overdoses in Clark County in 2021, with nearly 60% being opioid related. 

“It’s about meeting people where they are,” Chris Reynolds, Executive Director of Southern Nevada Health Consortium said. “And helping them reduce harm associated with substance abuse.”

Reynolds told 8 News Now he hopes gatherings like this help more people come forward and ask for help. 

“Once we can break that stigma and be able to talk to people about an issue,” Reynolds explained. “As if it’s an everyday issue, we will make leaps and bounds forward.”

Meanwhile, those who have been through addiction hope their stories help others move forward and choose sobriety. 

“I would have sold myself short on the life that I had,” George said. “If I would have got what I wanted when I first got sober.”

“This isn’t a war on drugs, this is about saving our people,” Vautrinot concluded. “This is about honoring this experience.”

According to the Southern Nevada Harm Reduction Alliance, drug overdose deaths are up 48% from 2019. 

For more information on Nevada’s recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day, visit this http://nvoverdoseday.com/