Unique program helps new and expectant mothers struggling with substance abuse

Firefly program
Posted at 10:05 AM, Jun 03, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ninety-eight Tennessee women died in 2020 during or shortly after pregnancy. More than a quarter of those deaths were tied to substance abuse.

Numbers like that are why Firefly, a rigorous program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, is helping mothers in recovery have a healthy pregnancy and postpartum experience.

Firefly launched in September 2021. In addition to obstetricians and gynecologists, the program includes peer recovery specialists, social workers, an outpatient lactation consultant, pediatric and psychiatric professionals and a clinical program manager to help provide wraparound services.

"It is such an honor to be able to work with them and walk with them just a little ways in their recovery journey," said Dr. Jessica Young, OBGYN and addiction medicine specialist.

Dr. Young says the program has enrolled roughly 140 patients.

"They show so much strength and have really, often faced a lot of adversity and a lot of difficult circumstances in their lives, and are really putting in a lot of hard work to overcome substance use disorder," Dr. Young said.

Emma Parish, who gave birth to a baby girl in October, is one of the patients. She was in recovery when she found out she was pregnant. Firefly is helping her stay clean and away from the pain medication and meth she abused in the past.

"I came and I didn't know what to expect, but I really enjoy the program here," Parish said.

Parish said her pregnancy and first months postpartum would've been different without Firefly.

"I don't have support everywhere else. This place supports women that are pregnant that have been in addiction or are still in addiction. We have groups here that are meeting and we have other people who we can depend on that can help us through," Parish said.

The Vanderbilt program is for pregnant and postpartum women on Medicaid with opioid use disorder.

This story was first reported by Hannah McDonald at WTVF in Nashville.