Tragedy of FAS can be prevented Editorial

Posted: Friday, September 12, 2003

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the nation has debated whether the attacks could have been prevented.

Earlier this week, caring people all over the globe called to the world's attention a completely different, daily tragedy that is 100 percent preventable: fetal alcohol syndrome.

On Tuesday the ninth day of the ninth month International Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Awareness Day was observed around the globe. The message of the day was simple: During the nine months of pregnancy, a woman should not drink alcohol.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the leading known cause of mental retardation and the only one that is 100 percent preventable. The prevention boils down to this: Don't drink if you're pregnant. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

FAS is permanent. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy destroys developing cells in the fetus, causing permanent damage to the brain.

What health officials term "Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders" not only cause learning disabilities but also contribute significantly to failure in school, juvenile delinquency, homelessness, unemployment, mental illness and criminal activity.

Preventing FAS, however, is not just a pregnant woman's responsibility. It requires community support and lots of education. A woman can be much more successful in her ability to stop drinking, if her male partner and family and friends also stop drinking.

In Alaska, it is estimated that about 140 children are born each year with FAS. Alaska has the highest known incidence of FAS in the United States. Health care and social services related to FAS are estimated to cost Alaskans between $21 million and $42 million each year.

FAS is one more reason for Alaskans to consider their relationship with alcohol. Statistics abound on the cost and damage alcohol causes:

The negative consequences of alcohol abuse cost U.S. taxpayers about 77 cents per drink.

Alaska ranks first among all states in alcohol mortality.

It's estimated nearly 60,000 Alaskans misuse, abuse or are addicted to alcohol.

It really comes down to this, though: This particular tragedy can be prevented. Children don't have to start their lives with this strike against them.

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