LCOTF Conference “Reimagining Empathy: A Decade of Unity and Resilience” – Lauren Pristo, MPH, Director of Community Engagement


8:22 on FM 97.3, third Wednesday of the month, we get a visit with folks from the McCall Behavioral Health Network. Part of that network is the Litchfield County Opiate Task Force, and they’ve been around for 10 years. That’s part of the reason we’re here today. We’re joined in the studio by Tom Narducci. He’s the administrative director for behavioral health. He’s with Charlotte Hungerford Hospital. He’s co-chair of the LCOTF. Good morning, Tom. Welcome to the show. Good morning, Dale. We also welcome Lauren Pristo, who’s director of community engagement and coordinator for the Litchfield County Opioid Task Force.

Good morning to you both.

Good morning.

Good morning. Thanks for joining us. So we’re here to talk about a conference coming up next week called Reimagining Empathy at the Warner Theater. But I want to start by just saying congratulations on 10 years in this effort to fight addiction and these substances here in the Litchfield County towns.

Yeah, the task force has been together for 10 years and it’s really a unique cross-section of every role in the community, all the communities in Northwest Connecticut. That’s what we realized early on. If we were going to do anything about the opiate epidemic, we all had to come together united. And during that time, this journey we’ve had, we’ve learned so much about how to better serve those that struggle with substance use. So as we are approaching this upcoming conference that we’re going to talk about, we hope to share that knowledge, not just with the professionals in the community and healthcare workers and law enforcement, but you know, with friends and neighbors and co-workers of those who struggle with substance use. I have learned so much over the years with my interviews with the folks from McCall, and one of the things I’ve learned is the role of regular people and helping people who battle with this. And Lauren, I’ll let you speak to this with the focus of next week’s or the November 30th conference reimagining empathy and why regular everyday people should consider attending.

Oh absolutely. I think for this conference the title is reimagining empathy and we want to discuss how we center empathy in our day-to-day lives and how empathy informs how we wrap folks up who have been struggling. And it’s a way to come together as a community and for us to establish a way to move forward, a way to identify collective healing and collective compassion, and not just the opioid crisis but I think right now we’re in a world where it’s marked by crises and struggles and you know the discussions around the war was just on the news and how do we come together as a community and bring back empathy and move through this?

It’s absolutely a broader topic because it does seem like there is a coarseness in society right now and the lack of as that old saying goes walk a mile in their shoes and that really speaks to empathy so that’s going to be our focus what can you tell us

about our keynote speakers on that date we’re so excited to welcome some truly world-renowned speakers to the stage we have Johan Hari he’s a New York Times best-selling author, three times over actually. He has many excellent books. He’s going to be there in person for our morning keynote and also doing a book signing, so if you have any of those best-selling books, bring it with you or purchase it there. And then we are also joined by Dr. Gabor Mate. He’s also a best-selling author and well-known for his work in trauma and healing and really the human condition and improving lives through addressing those things.

Thank you for just joining us this morning. Tom Narducci and Lauren Pristo are guests this morning for Litchfield County Opioid Task Force as they commemorate a decade of efforts in this community or in our communities. Reimagining Empathy is a one-day conference coming up on November 30th. It’s going to be held at the Warner Theater right on Main Street in Torrington. This is open to everyone. Let’s talk about how people can register for it. Is there a charge and if there’s any deadlines as far as registering so that they know you’re coming.

Certainly we would love to welcome folks from our community, all folks from our community and folks can find information on how to register on our website that’s and through there they can purchase their tickets. They’re $60. If cost is a barrier though we do have some scholarship tickets available. So we have 50% off and then full scholarship available as well. And tickets are available all the way up to the day of the event and should they arrive at the Werner Theatre they can get their ticket day of as well.

Back to our topic, which really of course is this community effort to battle addiction. And 10 years on, 10 years on, there’s no sign of this battle letting up, is there, Tom? Unfortunately, no. You know, the opiate epidemic has a lot of complexities to it. But while we are still making battles, we’re also getting far more folks into care through medication-assisted treatment and through access to recovery, whether it be, you know, in a residential treatment or a local ambulatory type of setting. And I think underwriting that is that where we once judged folks, you know, for their substance use or their addiction in a negative fashion, we all know that most all folks that struggle with substance use, they’re suffering from pain or some type of trauma, maybe anxiety, depression. The substance use was a temporary masking of that pain. Unfortunately, it ends up with symptoms that cause negative behaviors. So we start reacting to the negative behaviors and see a person in a negative light. We know if we want to engage someone into recovery, we need to reach out and see them as human beings suffering deep inside, and that is where the empathy and compassion. So as we’re hoping to get a broader, everybody in the community, at the Warner Theater for this conference, folks can really hear from these speakers about how we’ve come to understand what suffering is like from substance use and how we can reach out as individuals, our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends, how we can reach out with compassion. That is what is needed for folks that make that first step into the road to recovery. Absolutely, I love the way that you both have broadened really this too. Of course, getting beyond the stigma of people struggling with substance and having empathy for that. But just empathy for our neighbors and friends right now in an environment that just seems way too combative, to use a word, these days. So reimagining that empathy, maybe doing a little bit of a community reset in how we look at others.

Yeah, I think it’s really, it’s the prime time to come together and think about where we’re going as a community. And as Tom mentioned, this work has been going on for some time in the northwest corner of Connecticut and Litchfield County really leads the charge. And so we’re hoping to come together as a community and as a state and celebrate the good work that’s happened and also reassess where we’re going next and hopefully centering empathy in that future work.

Once again, if you would, Lauren, how people can register and find out more about Reimagining Empathy coming up November 30th and about Litchfield County Opiate Task Force.

Absolutely. So please visit our website, On there you can find information about the task force, about the conference, and you can also find the link to register.

All right. Sounds good. I thank you both for your time, and as you said, it goes quickly. We’re already out of time. But we hope we’ve got people thinking about this important topic of empathy and how important it is in our everyday lives, not only with the opiate fight, but really in the way that we treat one another going forward. And I hope anyone who attends, I hope they come away with new hope that we can help folks in recovery. All right, excellent way to close it. Tom, Lauren, thank you both for joining us on the show. Best of luck with the conference. Again, that’s November 30th, downtown Torrington at the Warner Theatre. Best to you both. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you. Back to the newsroom now, and here’s Jeff.