Call to Action # 33: Background Content

CAMH: FASD report

September 9, 2021

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health FASD Report

Sept. 9, 2021: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: CAMH released Developing a Multi-source Surveillance System for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Prenatal Alcohol Exposure, prepared for the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“The effects of exposure to alcohol before birth, including FASD, must be recognized globally as a substantial public health problem with a prevalence rate that exceeds that of Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder,” the report states. “Addressing the determinants of FASD, which are a complex interplay of factors, including trauma and health inequity, is therefore a critical public health priority.”

FASD is a lifelong disability that affects the brain and body of individuals who were exposed to alcohol in the womb. It can be difficult to diagnose and currently there is no coordinated national surveillance system to monitor the prevalence of FASD in Canada.

“Overall, FASD is largely underreported and underdiagnosed,” says lead author Dr. Lana Popova, Senior Scientist, Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH. “There is an urgent need for increased funding to expand diagnostic capacity and services. FASD is typically detected through a broad spectrum of psychometric tests conducted by a multi-disciplinary team that includes specialist physicians, psychologists, occupational therapists, and speech pathologists. Inequitable access to this resource-intensive diagnostic process results in many individuals with FASD never receiving a diagnosis and therefore never receiving treatment.”

This report is the first of its kind in Canada, presenting all existing data from a variety of sources on FASD and FAE prevalence rates in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

Other key report recommendations include:

  • Expand Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Care for Individuals with FASD;
  • Establish a Canada-Wide Surveillance System for FASD with Consistent Diagnostic Codes;
  • Establish a Universal Screening Protocol and Surveillance System for Alcohol Use during Pregnancy in Canada;
  • Expand Brief Interventions and Substance Use Programs for Women of Childbearing age; and
  • Continue and Expand Preconception Health Promotion and Education.

The report also speaks to the importance of addressing stigma around alcohol use during pregnancy. “Stigma directed at pregnant people who report alcohol use is strong, with serious impacts on their health, adds Dr. Popova. “Anti-stigma strategies need to be employed alongside educational strategies regarding alcohol use and pregnancy.”—reports-and-books—research/phac-report-en-pdf.pdf

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