When drink de­stroys Fe­tal al­co­hol leaves no­body un­touched

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE -

MAYBE you sat next to some­one with it at the doc­tor’s of­fice. Your daugh­ter or son might have a class­mate with it. If you’re a fos­ter par­ent, odds are any child who walks through your door will have it. It is fe­tal al­co­hol spec­trum dis­or­der, the um­brella term for the del­uge of phys­i­cal, cog­ni­tive and be­havioural prob­lems in­flicted on a baby when a woman drinks when she is preg­nant.

FASD is the lead­ing cause of de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties in the de­vel­oped world. It af­fects more peo­ple than Down syn­drome and autism com­bined. In Man­i­toba alone, an es­ti­mated 11,000 peo­ple live with it, in­clud­ing 2,000 kids.

And those num­bers are painfully con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mates.

Dr. Ab Chud­ley, Man­i­toba’s top FASD doc­tor, calls the kids and adults who have been di­ag­nosed with FASD just the “tip of the ice­berg.”

Chud­ley says for ev­ery child di­ag­nosed, there are likely two or three more who were ex­posed to al­co­hol in utero and have symp­toms of cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem dam­age.

The Man­i­toba gov­ern­ment spends $11 mil­lion a year pre­vent­ing and treat­ing FASD.

That’s peanuts com­pared to the mil­lions spent cop­ing with the mess FASD cre­ates.

As much as 10 per cent of the $10.7-bil­lion pro­vin­cial bud­get goes to com­bat­ing the spin-off ef­fects of FASD — the crime, the child-wel­fare cases, the schools strug­gling with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties and be­hav­iour prob­lems, the re­lated health-care costs.

“It’s an is­sue, and it’s a long-term is­sue,” ac­knowl­edged Healthy Liv­ing Min­is­ter Jim Ron­deau. “It af­fects fam­ily ser­vices, jus­tice, health, ed­u­ca­tion. It af­fects ev­ery­thing.”

The truth is, com­pared to most other prov­inces, Man­i­toba leads the pack when it comes to spend­ing on FASD. The prov­ince has one of the best di­ag­nos­tic cen­tres in North Amer­ica and a menu of new and in­no­va­tive pro­grams, such as a court pro­ject for young of­fend­ers with FASD and a new prov­ince-wide men­tor­ing pro­gram for women at risk of drink­ing while preg­nant.

But ev­ery­one agrees those pro­grams catch only a tiny sliver of peo­ple with FASD.

Mean­while, the hu­man and fi­nan­cial costs of FASD are enor­mous.

FASD is vir­tu­ally in­vis­i­ble and mired in stigma. If left un­treated, FASD con­demns peo­ple to a pro­foundly un­happy life of fail­ure.

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