LAS VEGAS — When Andria Peterson began working as a clinical pharmacist in the pediatric and neonatal intensive care units at St. Rose Dominican Hospital in Henderson, Nevada, in 2009, she witnessed the devastating effects the opioid crisis had on the hospital’s youngest patients.
She recalled vividly one baby who stayed in the NICU for 90 days with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a form of withdrawal, because his mother had used substances while pregnant.
The mother came in every day, Peterson said. She took three buses to get to the hospital to see her baby. Peterson watched her sing to him some days and read to him on others.
“I saw in the NICU the love that she had for that baby,” Peterson said. “When it came down to it, she lost custody.”
At the time, Peterson said, she felt more could be done to help people like that mother. That’s why, in 2018, she founded Empowered, a program that provides services for pregnant and postpartum women who have a history of opioid or stimulant use or are currently using drugs.
The program helps about 100 women at any given time, Peterson said. Pregnancy often motivates people to seek treatment for substance use, she said. Yet significant barriers stand in the way of those who want care, even as national rates of fatal d …