Inside Legislature’s war declaration on FASD, 2 ideas for fighting epidemic

A resolution that Sen. Pete Kelly has called a kind of war declaration on fetal alcohol spectrum disorders sailed through Alaska state Senate this week.

The proposal is heavy on ambition and light on specifics for now. How exactly would the governor wipe out a generations-old epidemic? But look closely at the declaration and its companion, a resolution encouraging the use of “citizen networks” to solve Alaska’s many health and social problems.

You’ll find the seeds of certain tactics that Kelly and others are considering.

The first resolution (SCR 13) calls on the governor to expand residential treatment services for women who are pregnant and can’t stop drinking or using drugs. The effort should include partnering with the Indian Health Service to make beds available, it says.

What that means, said Kelly aide Heather Shadduck, is pregnant women who need immediate help getting sober might be served at one of the Health Service’s prematernal homes around the state. The facilities now house women who live off the road system and are about to give birth, but could also be used to treat pregnant moms who need to dry out immediately.

The second resolution (SCR 14) lays a foundation for plans to tap influential residents in a given town or village to offer help when they know an expectant mother is drinking.

It says the Legislature encourages “identification and development of citizen networks involving ‘natural helpers.’” If that rings a bell, it’s because the idea recalls peer-to-peer counseling programs that sought to find influential people in, say, a village high school and train them to help friends who are struggling with substance abuse or suicidal thoughts.

A teen who would be uncomfortable talking to an outsider might be more inclined to listen to the advice of a concerned classmate, the thinking goes.

Senate concurrent resolutions like these do not have the force of law. They do not set state aside money for anti-FASD efforts. But it’s of no small significance that Kelly, co-chairman of the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee, calls the idea of wiping out FASD “the thing that gets me up in the morning.”

“If that’s the legacy we could have, I think we could be very proud of that,” said Kelly, whose FASD think-tank is called “Empowering Hope” and includes Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium executive Valerie Davidson and retired Superior Court Judge Niesje Steinkruger, among others.

I’ll be in Juneau tomorrow and hope to talk to Kelly more about his plans, if possible.

If you have specific ideas for preventing FASD, helping mothers at risk for drinking while pregnant or aiding those who were born with the disability, email us at Your suggestions might be used in future stories on ways to battle the problem.

Meantime, here are a few recent examples of what others are doing or considering as they combat the global problem of FASD:

• A $3 million halfway house for former prison inmates with FASD opens in Whitehorse, Yukon. 

•  In Ontario, a classroom is tailored for children with FASD-related sensory problems. No posters, no distractions.

•  Alcohol research groups in Australia oppose a move to criminalize drinking by pregnant women

Originally published March 18, 2014 by KYLE HOPKINS in Anchorage Daily News.