Study puts price tag on FASD in Canada

London Free Press
[London, Ontario]
By Debora Van Brenk
February 25, 2015

Ten-year-old Ainsley Schuck is a junior black belt in karate and wants to become a police officer.

Her adoptive mother Paula describes her as a bright, lively, brave kid and a great little sister to 13-year-old Payton.

Ainsley is also impulsive, sensitive to noise and emotionally younger than her years — a result of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, the leading cause of preventable developmental disability among Canadians.

Now a ground-breaking national study is quantifying the annual economic cost of the disorder at up to $2.3 billion.

And that’s a “very conservative” calculation of the costs of extra health care, speech therapy, special education and law enforcement for kids and adults, study author Lana Popova says.

The study through the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is the most comprehensive of its kind as it itemizes as many associated costs as can be drawn from available data.

But as detailed as the report is, Popova admits the dollar figures are unrealistically low, in part because the data is incomplete.

Paula Schuck, a London advocate for adoptive parents and for families with children with the disorder, said the numbers are artificially low because birth mothers rarely disclose alcohol use during pregnancy and sometimes the cost of diagnosis is prohibitive.

Some costs are also difficult to put a price tag on, she said.

Schuck, a former Free Press reporter, receives calls weekly from caregivers having to curtail or quit paid work because their children need extra care and from people experiencing stress in their relationships.

“It takes a real toll on all of our families,” she said.

People with the disorder are more likely to have health problems requiring medical care; more likely to have run-ins with the law; and more likely to need special-education supports and long-term care.

For Schuck, one solution is to ensure schools invest in children who have the disorder.

“Our kids can be successful but we don’t see a whole lot of that because systems are failing.

“Nobody knows what our kids can do because they haven’t had a chance to be supported properly in society.”

Bright’s Grove advocate Bruce Ritchie said the disorder is vastly under-diagnosed and the addiction centre’s numbers are “grossly under-estimated.”

Ritchie, moderator of the support and information site and father of a son with the disorder, said early diagnosis and intervention are essential.

He also said higher alcohol prices and taxation would help reduce the problem and provide more supports where needed.

His message to women thinking of getting pregnant: “Don’t drink. The only purpose of booze is to make your brain take a hike and the price that child pays is (for) a lifetime.”

Popova said there are several policy implications of the study. They include the importance of prevention; early screening and diagnosis; and early intervention in education and therapies.

What is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder?
•A range of effects on a baby, child and adult after a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy.
•May include as many as 400 different physical, behavioural and educational symptoms, ranging from moderate to severe.
•They can include hyperactivity; lack of focus; poor co-ordination; delayed development and problems in thinking, speech, movement and social skills; poor judgment; learning disabilities; problems seeing or hearing.
•Affects as many as one in 100 Canadians.
•Canada’s alcohol drinking guidelines say there is no safe amount, and no safe time, to drink alcohol during pregnancy.

•Direct health-care (speech therapy, prescription drugs, hospital care, addiction treatment, diagnosis): $129 million to $226 million
•Law enforcement costs (youth and adult correctional services): $378 million
•Other direct costs (foster care, supportive housing, long-term care, special education, prevention and research): $222 million to $479 million
•Study can be found at (search for The Burden and Economic Impact of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Canada

The study:
•Estimates annual cost of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in Canada in 2013 at $1.3 billion to $2.3 billion.
•Written by Lana Popova of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, with funding from Public Health Canada.

[Study title: The Burden and Economic Impact of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Canada. Svetlana Popova (Principal Investigator), Shannon Lange, Larry Burd and Jurgen Rehm. February 2015. CAMH 198 p. available as a PDF google it…]