2023 Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz Honorable Mention awarded to Dr. Andria Peterson

Pharmacist leader recognized for humanistic and cutting-edge care of infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Dr. Andria Peterson

Dr. Andria Peterson is being honored for her empathic leadership and innovative, evidence-based, and cutting-edge care of infants experiencing the effects of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Dr. Peterson’s relationship with this issue is deeply personal.

Dr. Peterson was working as a clinical pharmacist in a NICU in 2008 when she met a mother and her baby who would alter the direction of Dr. Peterson’s career. The newborn was experiencing NAS, informally known as withdrawal. This is a highly stigmatized condition because NAS forms when babies are exposed to opioids, stimulants, and other illegal substances while in the womb. In turn, the mothers of these infants are often judged harshly and seen as irresponsible.

Dr. Peterson observed that this mother came to the NICU every day and sang, cuddled, and read books to her baby. At the time, Dr. Peterson also had a young child and related to this mother’s visible adoration and love for her daughter. Over a four-month period, Dr. Peterson helped this mother and her baby, and learned that the mother commuted to the NICU every day using three buses. The mother’s humanity was truly “seen” by Dr. Peterson, who understood the difficulties this mother was facing, including her challenging commute, daily visits to the methadone clinic, withdrawal symptoms, life circumstances, and the strong desire to visit her daughter on a daily basis in the NICU.

Despite the mother’s love and commitment, the baby was placed in foster care. Dr. Peterson found a moving, handwritten note at the NICU central workstation that the mother had left for her baby’s foster parents. The message expressed gratitude to the foster parents and a mother’s longing: “There is nothing in this world I want more except to change her dirty diapers and be awoken at 2 a.m. to feed her and see her smile.”

This experience made Dr. Peterson realize that her hospital was inexperienced with caring for these babies. In response, she created and implemented a hospital-wide NAS protocol, which reduced NICU stays by an average of 4 days.

Katie Ryan, Director of Governmental Relationships at the hospital at the time, summed up the essence of Dr. Peterson’s leadership. “Dr. Peterson was not the only person to sit and witness this day after day, but she was the person that stood up and did something about it,” she said.

Dr. Peterson’s innovative thinking led her to co-found EMPOWERED, a program that provides comprehensive services for pregnant and postpartum individuals and their babies. She collaborated with Mednax, now Pediatrix, which is a group of leading neonatologists and pediatric hospitalists that serves over 1,200 NICUs in the United States. Their data showed that rates of NAS in Nevada were almost two times higher than other states.

This eye-opening statistic inspired Dr. Peterson to utilize an expansive approach that offers more than direct services. She focused on advancing public awareness campaigns and training healthcare workers and health professions students in successfully identifying and treating Substance Use Disorder and NAS. Dr. Peterson has also created protocols and disseminated treatment guides, and proposed legislation aimed at requiring continuing education on these topics for physicians and other healthcare providers.

Dr. Peterson received her PharmD degree from Roseman University of Health Science, and completed her residency training at University Medical Center in Las Vegas.

In the nomination of Dr. Peterson, Rachel Mack, LMSW, LADC, Associate Director of Roseman University – EMPOWERED program, included a testimonial from Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist Dr. Brian Iriye: “In a society where understanding and empathy are indispensable, Andria has proven her remarkable ability to connect with individuals on a deeply personal level. Her respect and appreciation for the unique social and cultural experiences that each individual brings, makes her program not just a lifeline, but also a ray of hope and acceptance. She sees the inherent value in every person she helps and understands that each story is a testament to human resilience, and a call for understanding and support.”

Read the announcement about Dr. Shira Shavit, 2023 Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz Award recipient.

Irene Zampetoulas, MPA

Communications Associate

Supports the Foundation's marketing and communications initiatives, including writing stories, updating social media, crafting our messages, and more.