Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: FAS North's curse is tragic
NNSL (OCT 16/96) - Persistent drinking creates havoc in the womb.

The fetus can be damaged, later in life causing criminal acts, unrealized potential, plus individual and community suffering.

The ravages of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and fetal alcohol effects (FAE) can only be described as tragic.

Trying to stop this devastation, a coalition has launched a campaign to reduce the high toll FAS exacts on the North.

Making up the group are community service agencies known as the FAS Community Team, with the support of territorial Health and Social Services and Yellowknife MLAs Roy Erasmus and Seamus Henry.

Erasmus met with the group during the spring session. The strategy, presented at the legislature last week, came out of that meeting.

Victims of FAS are damaged before they take their first breath, damaged by their mother's drinking during pregnancy.

The syndrome is characterized by hearing, speech, learning and behavior problems as well as mental disabilities and below-average growth before and after birth.

The number and degree of these symptoms vary with each sufferer.

The FAS community team identifies two main objectives: a pilot treatment program for pregnant women with drug problems; and the development and delivery of a standardized training program on FAS/FAE.

"We're hoping the government will take some ideas in the document and work on them," said team member Miriam Wideman of the Mackenzie Regional Health Centre last Wednesday at the legislature.

Representatives of the team were there to unveil an educational poster and pamphlet designed to raise awareness of FAS.

Though the government is in deficit-reduction mode, the team says FAS is a problem they can ill afford to ignore. Last week in the legislature Henry noted the government spends an average of $1.4 million over the lifetime of each FAS suffer.

The extent of the problem is difficult to quantify, said team executive director Lanny Cooke of the Yellowknife Association for Community Living.

"There haven't been any widespread assessments done of kids and adults, but we've been told over and over again there are large numbers of cases in the NWT."

Erasmus is trying to arrange a meeting between team representatives and Health Minister Kelvin Ng.