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 drug overdoses during and shortly after pregnancy continue to rise. In addition to the risk of overdose, substance use during pregnancy can result in premature birth, low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome.

A federal initiative seeking to combat those overdoses is distributing millions of dollars to states to help fund and expand programs like Empowered. Six states will receive grant funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to increase access to treatment during and after pregnancy. The Nevada Health and Human Services Department is distributing the state’s portion of that funding, about $900,000 annually for up to three years, to help the Empowered program expand into northern Nevada, including by establishing an office in Reno and sending mobile staff into nearby rural communities.

Other states are trying to spread the federal funds to maximize reach. State officials in Montana have awarded their state’s latest $900,000 grant to a handful of organizations since first receiving a pool of funding in 2020. Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, and South Carolina will also receive $900,000 each.

Officials hope the financial boosts will help tamp down the rise in overdoses.

Deaths from drug overdoses hit record highs in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More recent preliminary data shows that the rates of fatal drug overdoses have continued to rise since.

Deaths in pregnant and postpartum people have also increased. Homicides, suicides, and drug overdoses are the leading causes of pregnancy-related death.

Fatal overdoses among pregnant and postpartum people increased by approximately 81% from 2017 to 2020, according to a 2022 study. Of 7,642 reported deaths related to pregnancy during those years, 1,249 were overdoses. Rates of pregnancy-related opioid overdose deaths had already more than doubled from 2007 to 2016.

Meanwhile, birthing parents and birthing parents-to-be in rural parts of the country, some of the hardest hit by the opioid crisis, face greater barriers to care because of fewer treatment facilities specializing in pregnant and postpartum people in their communities and fewer providers who can prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid addiction.

Read the full article about overdoses and expectant mothers by Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez and Katheryn Houghton at The19th.