Effort to warn women about alcohol during pregnancy

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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A media campaign is set to launch in March that is aimed at reducing the number of children born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in Alaska.

A study also is planned that is expected to involve signs and pregnancy-test dispensers in bars, to test their effectiveness in raising awareness about the potential implications of drinking while pregnant.

The state has the nation's highest documented rate of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, also known as FASDs, according to the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, which received $500,000 from the Legislature last year for the media campaign. More than 129 children are born with FASD each year in Alaska, the trust told the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.

FASDs refer to the range of effects that can happen to someone whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Conditions can range from mild to severe and can include abnormal facial features, learning disabilities, vision or hearing problems and hyperactive behavior. There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say.

That is the message that the planned media campaign will try to send to women.

FASD is completely preventable, said Jeff Jessee, CEO of the mental health trust authority.

The campaign will encourage women to make sure they're not pregnant before they drink and to abstain from alcohol if their birth control failed or they are otherwise unsure about whether they might be pregnant, Jessee said.

The campaign could run through summer, but officials are looking for ways to stretch the budget, said Carley Lawrence, the trust's chief communications officer. Private partnerships are an option for extending the campaign, but Lawrence said talks to the effect are just beginning and nothing has been finalized.

Working to eradicate FASD has become a pet cause for Senate Finance co-chair Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, who helped to bring renewed attention to the issue during the last Legislature.

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