(Boston) – It is estimated that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) might affect up to 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 FASDs is a vital public health goal which highlights the need for public health interventions to specifically address alcohol use among women who are pregnant or might be pregnant. 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 risky alcohol use, including the risks of alcohol use during pregnancy.
FASDs are the physical, behavioral, mental, and cognitive disabilities often seen in individuals who were exposed to alcohol prenatally. Alcohol use during pregnancy is considered the most common cause of preventable developmental and intellectual disabilities. Research suggests that 1 in 10 pregnant women reports alcohol use in the past 30 days, counter to the advice of the CDC, the U.S. Surgeon General, and several medical and professional organizations.
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 healthcare 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 prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and it is vital that they are trained in how to best screen for 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 FASDs 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 FASDs,” said Alford, who is also Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education at BUSM.