New collaborative program receives CDC grant to reduce Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) affects approximately 1 in 20 children in the United States. These catastrophic and irreversible disorders are entirely preventable if no alcohol is used during pregnancy. Reducing the incidence of FASD is a vital public health goal which highlights the need for public health interventions to specifically address alcohol use among women during their reproductive years. A new collaborative program led by Boston Medical Center (BMC) and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will train healthcare providers on how to best screen and counsel patients regarding unsafe alcohol use including the risks of alcohol use during pregnancy.

FASD are the physical, behavioral, mental, and cognitive disabilities often seen in individuals who were exposed to alcohol during their gestation. Alcohol use during pregnancy is considered the most common causes of preventable developmental and intellectual disabilities. Research suggests that 20-30 percent of women drink at some time during pregnancy, counter to the advice of the CDC and Surgeon General.

The Boston Sustainable Models for unhealthy Alcohol use ReducTion (B SMART) program is a collaboration between BMC, Boston University Schools of Medicine (BUSM) and Public Health (BUSPH), and Boston HealthNet - an integrated health care delivery system providing services at sites located throughout Boston and in nearby communities. The B SMART program will focus on training healthcare providers in universal screening and counseling for unhealthy alcohol use - with ongoing coaching and technical assistance. The program will work with each participating clinic to tailor the implementation of these services to best meet their patients' and providers' needs.

"Healthcare providers are key players in the effort to reduce Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and it is vital that they are trained in how to best screen for unhealthy alcohol use and intervene using nonjudgmental and effective counseling strategies," said Daniel Alford, MD, MPH, director of the Clinical Addiction Research and Education (CARE) unit at BMC and BUSM and principal investigator of the B SMART program.

The lessons learned from this program will then be shared within and outside of the Boston HealthNet community, allowing for the continued development and implementation of new strategies to address unhealthy alcohol use and to reduce the incidence of FASD at other practices.

"By creating protocols that can be adapted and used widely by practices in Massachusetts and beyond, we believe that the B SMART program will help prevent cases of FASD," said Alford, who is also Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education at BUSM.

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