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Alaska Native Leaders in Anchorage to Address Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), March 22-23

Alaska Native leaders are in Anchorage to address Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) this Thursday and Friday, March 22 and 23. The meeting, titled “Protecting Our Futures: Making FASD a Priority” is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) FASD Center for Excellence.

The gathering will include a panel hosted by individuals who were born with an FASD, as well as Tribal leaders and behavioral health specialists and policymakers from across the State. The meeting is not open to the public, and a few panels are not open to media coverage to protect the privacy of some of the participants. AGENDA (pdf)

The purpose of the meeting is to

·         review the latest data

·         review current prevention and support programs

·         craft strategies to expand prevention and treatment

The Alaska Native community has done a tremendous job bringing down the prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (the most severe form of FASD) among Alaska Native newborns.

Alaska Native babies were born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) half as often around the year 2000 as they were five to seven years earlier, Department of Health and Social Services researchers found in an analysis of Alaska Birth Defects Registry data. That change brought the state’s overall rate from 1996 to 2002 down by a third, researchers reported a 2010 State of Alaska Epidemiology Bulletin.

The State of Alaska Epidemiology Bulletin reports the rate fell to 32.4 per 10,000 live Alaska Native births between 2000 and 2002, down from 63.1.

However, the rate remains significantly higher than among non-Native newborns statewide, so this meeting seeks to continue the prevention momentum.

A major joint federal-state prevention and education effort ran from 1991 to 1996, with a second running from 1998 to 2006, said L. Diane Casto, manager of Prevention and Early Intervention Services for the Division of Behavioral Health.

“We can’t absolutely link the decrease to our prevention efforts, but the timing strongly suggests that it was a major factor,” Casto said. “This is clear encouragement that we can change these statistics which represent so much lost potential and needless heartbreak.”

FASD is an umbrella term describing a range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy; these effects may include physical, mental, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications. FASD is a leading cause of preventable intellectual disabilities. There is no known safe amount or type of alcohol to consume at any time during pregnancy.

Alaska Department of Health & Social Services, 3601 C St. Suite 902, Anchorage, AK 99503

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