Overdose Awareness & Harm Reduction – Lauren Pristo, MPH, Director of Community Engagement, Litchfield County Opiate Task Force


It’s 821 on FM 97.3 WCBG. Once a month we catch up with the folks from McCall Center for Behavioral Health and Health Inc. And they’re part of, of course, a network of different groups that are battling the addiction epidemic that is still just raging across this country. This time, talking with Lauren Pristo, she’s the Director of Community Engagement with the Litchfield County Opioid Task Force. And I was surprised, Lauren, that it’s now four years you’ve been in that position, how time flies.

Oh, I know, it’s been such a great and heartbreaking, but impactful experience. Yeah, yeah, there’s a lot that you guys are trying to do every day, and to speak to the heartbreaking part of it four years later there’s no sign of this fight going away is there? No, unfortunately both across Connecticut and nationally year-over-year we’re seeing overdose rates go up and up in Connecticut in 2021 we lost more than 1,500 people to overdose and nationally over a hundred thousand we’re seeing rates go up amongst teens and not because teens are experimenting more, they’re actually experimenting less.

But the drug supply is so dangerous now. There’s fentanyl, there’s synthetic opioids being added to just about every drug you can get on the street. Everything from pressed pills made to look like a pharmaceutical to the heroin to cocaine. It’s very dangerous out there. So you can’t really afford to experiment because something that you think was a garden variety opioid that perhaps you took in the past can kill you because of what it’s injected with now.

Right, yep, now even things like Xanax that are purchased on the street, those might contain fentanyl or another synthetic opioid that could kill somebody. Wow, so I want to get back to one statistic. Nationally, a hundred thousand deaths? A hundred thousand deaths. Devastating, isn’t it? That is just incredible. So we do have a little bit of a brighter spot here in Litchfield County, right? Our rates are slightly better? Yeah, in Litchfield County, we were the only county to go down. So we’re fortunate to see a decrease, but you know, I want to be cautiously optimistic that we’ve seen this decrease now for two years, but we’re still losing a lot of our neighbors and we’re still seeing a high rate of non-fatal overdoses.

But part of that decrease could be due to the increase of naloxone availability in the community and access to things like treatment and other resources. What does naloxone do, for those who may not know? Naloxone, sometimes referred to as Narcan, is opioid reversal medication or an overdose reversal medication. So somebody who is experiencing an overdose, it goes and blocks the receptors to help reverse that overdose. How important has this been in saving lives? It’s absolutely instrumental. None of, I shouldn’t say none of, but many, many folks who are alive today are alive thanks to naloxone. There’s actually a story I would like to share about that. Sure. There was this profound moment, I was just speaking with Maria, our CEO about this.

There was this moment that really struck both of us where in one of our Litchfield County Opioid Task Force meetings, we were talking about naloxone and how important it is and how important it is for people to have it on hand and have multiple doses and the opportunity to have multiple reversals because there’s often a sentiment where people are like, you know, maybe stop reversing people after the third time, fourth time and this conversation was going on and one gentleman raises his hand and he says, if it wasn’t for multiple reversals with naloxone, I would not be here today. And this is somebody who is doing amazing work, life-saving work.

And then after that, around the room, hand after hand went up of folks who you would never suspect saying, yes, it was five times, six times, three times that it took. You know, that many times that they were so close to death that if naloxone wasn’t available, they wouldn’t be here doing this amazing work that they’re doing today. So it’s a misnomer to think that kind of a one and done. All right, we saved your life with naloxone. That was your shot. You know, don’t blow it. Don’t let it happen a second time. It may happen a second, third, fourth, fifth time.

Right. And maybe that fifth, sixth, seventh time is when that reversal for them, that moving toward life again begins. Exactly, and to think about how amazing the potential for human life is, and all the great work that wouldn’t have been done if they weren’t here with us. So that’s one of the most important resources because that is a medicinal application that works and saves lives.

Immediate access to treatment, we gotta be able to have that available and partnered with that, I guess, support for families. Exactly. And if people want immediate access to care, McCall has a mobile wellness van that’s out in the community where folks can show up. They just need to walk up and say, I’m ready for treatment. And the folks on that van can connect them with medication. They can get them set up with a therapist and go from there. And then we also have supports for families because families are often the folks that are supporting someone who uses drugs and it’s a it’s a tough role and so having that support we have support groups we have coaches who can help the family get through that. Our guest this morning Lauren Pristo she’s director of community engagement with McCall Center Behavioral Health and Hill Bank and known of course for her role with Litchfield County Opioid Task Force, there’s going to be a vigil to mark some, or to raise some awareness about overdose.

And I think when you’re, you know, COVID is still part of our lives. We’re battling inflation, you know, there’s a drought going on. There’s a lot of distractions, but this fight isn’t going away and it seems to be getting worse, right? Right, and with those devastating increases, it’s so important that we remember the lives that we’ve lost to overdose. And hopefully folks can come down at Copark to our vigil.

It’s August 31st, 6 to 8. We have a resource fair with all those resources available for folks, followed by a candlelit vigil where we read the names and remember the people we’ve lost. And information on the website and on the Facebook page as well. Where can people find that for those looking? Yep, absolutely. It’s on the McCall page. It’s also on the task force page, so lcotf.org. It’s on our Facebook, so please, please come. Lauren, thanks for being our guest today, and again, that upcoming overdose awareness vigil is happening October 31st, August 31st. I missed a month there. And what time is that again? Six to eight. Six to eight o’clock. Lauren, thanks for being our guest and thank you for all the work you do, you folks at the LCOTF and also McCall and Help, Inc. as well.

Yes, thank you so much. Thanks for being our guest and have a great day. Getting back to the newsroom with Jeff, we go there in just about 90 seconds.