Women urged to ‘think before they drink’

Whitehorse Daily Star
By Stephanie Waddell on March 23, 2015

Nine years ago, at the age of 19, Jessica Fulmer was not only too nervous to go to a drug store and buy a pregnancy test, but she also didn’t have the $15 to $20 needed to purchase the test.

Had she been able to quietly slip into a bathroom with a couple of loonies to buy one out of a dispenser, she would have probably known much sooner that she was pregnant.

Fulmer knows what it’s like to live with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) herself.

She was eventually able to talk to her caseworker at the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon (FASSY), who made the purchase for her, but getting to that point wasn’t easy.

Fulmer is now the mother of a healthy girl.

She recalled her experience this morning during the launch of a new program to make the $2 pregnancy test kits available through dispensers being installed in women’s washrooms in Whitehorse at Yukon College and the Dirty Northern Pub.

They will also be installed in Dawson at the Downtown Hotel (in the lobby washroom) and the Westminster Lounge.

Posters are also set to be displayed in the Jarvis Street Saloon and the Gra8teful Spud in Whitehorse along with another location in Dawson.

The Whitehorse initiative is being led by FASSY, with the project in Dawson being led by Healthy Families Healthy Babies.

As Wenda Bradley, FASSY’s executive director, explained, the initiative aims to have women “think before they drink” and consider whether they might be pregnant before consuming alcohol.

She also wants to see it challenge stereotypes she said can get in the way of effective education on FASD.

“This is not just a problem for women struggling with alcohol consumption or addiction,” Bradley said.

“It is a problem for all of us. We feel that this universal prevention strategy will increase awareness among the general public with no known risk factors, of the prospective health risk of prenatal alcohol exposure.

“The messaging on the pregnancy kit dispensers, we feel, will help do this and as well provide a useful, accessible and affordable tool for women if they choose to use it.”

While there are a number of dispensers elsewhere in the country, Bradley said this is the first one officials know of in Canada’s North.

The Yukon initiative will also be part of a study through the University of Alaska Anchorage looking at whether the dispensers and information or just providing information is effective in reaching women.

“We’re very glad to be connected with this study,” Bradley said.

The results will help determine if it’s having an impact and perhaps eventually lead to further funding for dispensers to be added in other locations down the road.

A survey is being done – with residents able to simply scan a barcode on the posters with a smartphone – as part of that assessment.

Those who participate in the survey will get a $15 iTunes card for their participation and be contacted again in six months to complete the second part of the survey when they can again receive another iTunes card for doing that survey.

FASSY officials first became aware of the kit dispensers during an international FASD prevention conference held in Calgary in 2013.

Healthy Brains For Children developed the dispenser program with a goal of making tests available worldwide in locations where women can test before drinking rather than waiting longer into a pregnancy.

The tests kits are being provided through Healthy Brains For Children with the $2 price-tag reflecting the cost of the pregnancy test and shipping rates.

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Bradley said she’s been pleased with the response from the community. All who were asked have been more than willing to participate.

She also pointed out that while the Jarvis Street Saloon had also offered to put in a dispenser, the group opted for the Dirty Northern and Yukon College, while putting the poster up at the Jarvis Street Saloon.

With funding for two dispensers, the group wanted to get one into a bar with the Dirty Northern indicating it has a younger clientele that may prefer that type of test option over a more public purchase at a drugstore.

Also wanting to reach teenagers who are too young to get into bars, the group opted for the college.

Bradley pointed out teenagers can go to the college and discreetly get the test kit from the bathroom near the pit inside the main entrance.

As Fulmer recalled: “The pregnancy test can be expensive, plus there’s a stigma to buying one as a teenager.”

Also partnering on the program is Yukon Brewing, which provided a donation for the purchase of the $1,000 dispensers.

As Yukon Brewing co-owner Bob Baxter said this morning, while the company wants people to buy their product, “we’re all about responsible consumption.”

And that means supporting initiatives like this.

“We’re really happy to be part of this,” Baxter said.

Sue Stark, chair of the college’s school of health, education and human services, also noted the college is pleased to be part of a project that will help women think before they drink.