Substance abuse in women during pregnancy at the center of research  of the 2019 post graduate nursing researchers

Substance abuse in women during pregnancy at the center of research of the 2019 post graduate nursing researchers

The Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research established the Cheryl A. Wilson Graduate Research Award in Nursing in honor of long-time Howell Board Member and Nurse Cheryl A Wilson, RN to fund USD PhD nursing students whose research emphasis is on women’s health. Students who receive this award are active participants in research projects designed to improve the physical, mental, spiritual, and behavioral health, and well-being of women. This year, substance abuse in women during pregnancy took center stage in the fields of  their research.

The research projects that the Howell Foundation has awarded to Ph.D. candidates from USD’s Hahn School of Nursing since the inception of this award include topics that better the care of women: neonatal care, the efectivenss of HPV vaccines,  identifying or treating victims of human trafficking, and care of patients with Alzheimer’s disese, among others.

I have been so lucky to be working with women for women in women’s mental health research for a long time. I think it’s wonderful that the Howell Foundation is helping to empower women’s health. I’d like to thank the organization for their generous support in this work.

Teresa Nguyen discussing substance abuse in women during pregnancy
Teresa Nguyen

Teresa Nguyen is a board- certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner who specializes in reproductive psychiatry. She has treated a variety of reproductive related psychiatric illness including premenstrual dysphoric disorder, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and perimenopausal depression and anxiety. Her research project, “Recovery from Pernatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders in an Intensive Outpatient Program” will focus on understanding the associations between marijuana and mental health during pregnancy.

In her application, she states that  perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) are a public health issue that have far-reaching effects on children and families. Women with PMADs are at risk for substance abuse and poor obstetrical outcomes. Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) centered around group psychotherapy sessions show promise as a way to treat women with PMADs. The purpose of her study will be to determine if the IOP program at the UC San Diego Health System is indeed clinically effective in improving depression, anxiety, and mother-infant bonding in woman with IOPs, using validated surveys and an interview process. She will also follow the mothers’ recovery process from the PMAD following treatment.

“While rates of illicit drug use such as cocaine and opioids are decreasing during pregnancy, marijuana is the only substance where the rates of use are increasing during pregnancy.  Substance abuse in women during pregnancy, we think,  comes as a result of two important factors: the legalization of recreational marijuana across many US states, and that women are perceiving it as something that is safe and natural to use during pregnancy.”

Anecdotally, I know that my patients are using it to manage their stress and anxiety. What we don’t know is why women are using during pregnancy. Studies show that women are using it to treat nausea during pregnancy, but very few research is looking at women who are using it to manage their anxiety and depression.”

I really want to understand pregnant women that are using opiates and getting treatment. Although there is much research, I want to analyze the data that recent surveys haven’t reflected. The support from the Howell Foundation will help me analyze and critique the data as well as disseminate the findings. So I’m honored to be here. I am so grateful for the opportunity and very excited. So thank you so much.”

Loralie Woods
Loralie Woods

Continuing with the topic of substance abuse in women during pregnancy, Loralie Woods is starting her third year of the Ph.D. Nursing Program at USD. She is also the Director of Inpatient Services at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. For the last 20 years she’s worked as a psychiatric mental health nurse. “The recent prevalence of opioid misuse has resulted in an increase in fetal and neonatal mortality and morbidity.  Essential to slowing this epidemic is improved access to and use of treatment and recovery services.”

In her application, she stated that everyday over 115 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. In 2016 alone, over 42,000 Americans died due to opioid overdose and for each of these fatal overdoses, there were over 30 nonfatal overdoses. “Unfortunately, pregnant women have not been immune from opioid use disorders (OUDs) during pregnancy. From 1999-2010 opioid use among women increased 4-fold. Furthermore, the prevalence of opioid use has increased from 1.5 per 1,000 hospital deliveries to 6.5. This rise in OUD in pregnancy has resulted in an increase in fetal and neonatal mortality and morbidity. Opioid use can result in placental abruption, stillbirth or neonatal abstinence syndrome. Sadly, a baby is born every 25 minutes in the US with NAS.”

The purpose of Loralie’s project “Determining Promoters and Barriers of Treatment Utilization among Pregnant Women with Opioid Use Disorders “ will be to study the promotors of, and barriers to, seeking treatment among pregnant women with opiate use disorders (OUDs). Loralie will analyze data from 2016 and 2017 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health conducted in 2016 and 2017 and will correlate the relationship between demographic factors, socioeconomic status , and clinical evaluation to treatment accessibility and use. Her hope is that her research will assist healthcare providers in tailoring interventions that support and encourage pregnant women with OUDs to seek treatment.

“70,000 Americans every year get surveyed randomly by the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health,  and within that database there’s a lot of variables.  My focus is to look at facilitators and barriers to opiate treatment for pregnant women that may provide a new perspective on treatment.”

The Howell Foundation wishes you all the success!


The Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research has been dedicated to keeping the women we love healthy by making a long-term, positive impact on women’s health. It is the premier organization advancing women’s health.

The organization does so by:

  • Awarding undergraduate research scholarships and graduate nursing research grants to scientists researching issues affecting women’s health;
  • Presenting the latest medical research findings at our events and t hrough our Speaker Service progam, where experts and researchers convey timely timely information on topics relevant to women’s health and the health of their families,
  • Funding research initiatives geared towards improving the health of under-served women and increase awareness and advocacy in the community; bringing women’s health research to a full cycle.



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