CanFASD is looking for volunteers! We want to hear from adults with FASD about their successes at work

Edmonton and area Fetal Alcohol Network Society

CanFASD is doing a study with the University of Alberta to look at employment successes of adults with FASD.

There are two parts to the study:

  1. A short survey. This can be completed on the phone, online, or on paper.
  2. A video. We will be taking short clips of people talking about their successes at work. This part of the study is optional.

Are you coming to the International Conference on FASD in Vancouver this March? 

CanFASD and he U of A are hoping to find volunteers to complete the study at the conference. They welcome service providers, caregivers, and adults with FASD to visit Dr. Jacqueline Pei or Dr. Katy Flannigan at the CanFASD conference booth for more information. You can also contact Katy ( any time if you have questions before the conference. Hope to see you there!

Another post will be up soon with information about how to do the study if you…

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New UBC study reaffirms link between genes and addiction

New UBC study reaffirms link between genes and addiction

Researchers from the Faculty of Medicine have genetically engineered mice that resisted the lure of cocaine

By Farrah Merali, CBC News Posted: Feb 13, 2017 

The study involved injecting mice with cocaine in a chamber so that it would associate the area with the pleasure of the drug.

The study involved injecting mice with cocaine in a chamber so that it would associate the area with the pleasure of the drug. (UBC)

Canadian researchers have genetically-engineered a mouse that had unexpected resistance to the lure of cocaine, offering new insight on addiction at a molecular level in the brain.

The study was published today in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Neuroscience, led by scientists at the University of B.C. and University of Calgary.

Based on previous studies involving gene mutation, the team focused on a type of protein that helps binds cells together, known as cadherins, which are believed to be important for learning and addiction.

Bamji’s team genetically engineered mice that had higher levels of cadherin and conducted an experiment using the drug cocaine.

A group of mice was injected with cocaine in a specific chamber of a cage, the goal being: the mice would associate the drug with being in that area. Their behaviour was observed over a number of days.

What the team found: the normal mice almost always gravitated to the chamber where they were injected with cocaine, while the mice with the extra cadherin spent only half as much time there.

Cadherin Synapse

A diagram that shows the difference between a mouse with the extra protein cadherin and a regular mouse. (UBC)

Bamji said her team believes the extra cahderin prevented the transmission between neurons and the pleasurable memory of the drug didn’t stick.

“What happens when we have too much cadherin — or glue — is that it really holds on to the old type of receptor and prevents the new one from from getting to that right spot.”

“So basically what happens is: no synapse strengthening, no learning no addiction,” said Bamji.

The findings show that people with genetic mutations associated with cadherin may be more prone to substance use problems.

No ‘magic’ pill to curing addiction

Bamji said while the study doesn’t show how researchers can help people afflicted by addiction right now, it does reaffirm the thinking that addiction is more complicated than just a series of bad choices.

“It wasn’t that long ago where we just kind of thought of people who had addiction disorders as just being weak and that’s certainly not the case,” said Bamji.

“There’s accumulating evidence — and ours is just one of them — suggesting that addiction is really a biochemical disorder.”

Bamji said while there’s no “magic pill” to make people less addicted or less vulnerable, the hope is that research like her team’s can lead to greater confidence in predicting who is more vulnerable to drug abuse.

“In this day of genetics when we [can better] understand genes and which mutations what might cause this predisposition to addiction, we might have a better idea about the underlying cause of somebody’s addiction,” said Bamji.

As the province grapples with the opioid crisis, Bamji said it’s essential to understand addiction in a scientific way.

“It’s very important that these studies come out to continually remind the public that addiction is a matter of biochemistry,” said Bamji

“If we look at it that particular way … the way we design our policies and the way we deal with these people is going to be very different.”

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Suit against Wisconsin’s ‘cocaine mom’ law could go to trial this year


A lawsuit challenging a Wisconsin law that allows the state to detain pregnant women suspected of drug or alcohol abuse is scheduled for trial in May.

The suit, filed in 2014 in U.S. District Court in Madison by former Wisconsin resident Tammy Loertscher, claims the 1998 law is unconstitutional. It is sometimes called the “cocaine mom” law because concern about “crack babies” was paramount at the time.

Loertscher was living in Medford in 2014 when she sought a pregnancy test and help for depression and a thyroid problem, according to the suit. At Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire, she told a doctor she had used methamphetamine and marijuana but stopped taking them when she thought she was pregnant.

Tests showed Loertscher was 14 weeks pregnant and had traces of the drugs in her body, the suit says. A Taylor County judge ordered her into inpatient drug treatment. When she refused, she was taken to the county jail for 18 days, including 36 hours in solitary confinement, until she agreed to urinalysis throughout her pregnancy.

Between 2005 and 2014, the state made claims of abuse of fetuses against 467 women based on the law, said Nancy Rosenbloom, director of legal advocacy for National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which is representing Loertscher. In at least 152 cases, authorities removed children from their parents after birth, Rosenbloom said.

A handful of states — including Minnesota, Oklahoma and South Dakota — have similar laws, Rosenbloom said. Wisconsin’s law is unique in allowing for the provision of attorneys for the fetus but not the pregnant woman being detained, and for handling the cases in juvenile court where records are confidential, she said.

Some doctors say the law harms women and children because it discourages pregnant women struggling with addiction from seeking prenatal care or being open about drug use.

“The law increases the stigma of addiction and decreases the willingness of pregnant women who struggle with substance use to seek prenatal care and addiction treatments,” Dr. Aleksandra Zgierska, president of the Wisconsin chapter of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and Dr. Kathy Hartke, chair of the Wisconsin section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, wrote in a Wisconsin State Journal opinion column in December.

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CanFASD is hosting a new blog!


Hello readers –

CanFASD is hosting a new blog called CanFASD Connect at and they will no longer be updating at FASDintervention. The intervention blog will remain online so you can continue to access earlier posts, but all new postings will be at CanFASD Connect. Please join us there for weekly posts on FASD prevention, intervention, diagnosis, social justice, child welfare, and family collaboration. They will be sharing newly published FASD research, book reviews, researcher profiles, program highlights, and more.

The CanFASD researchers will also continue to post at and

Motherisk probe zeroes in on more child protection cases

The commission has now identified 24 cases in which flawed drug and alcohol hair tests performed by Sick Kids lab were a key factor in removing children from their families — and the number of cases is expected to grow.


Commissioner Judith Beaman gave an update Monday at the halfway point of the Motherisk probe’s two-year mandate. “This fiasco didn’t only affect children, but families and siblings and communities,” she said.  (RENE JOHNSTON / TORONTO STAR)

A probe of child protection files involving flawed drug and alcohol hair tests performed by the Hospital for Sick Children’s Motherisk lab has now identified 24 cases in which the results were a key factor in removing children from their families.

While that represents a fraction of the more than 500 “high-priority” child protection files the Motherisk Commission has so far examined, the number is set to rise in the coming months as an additional 1,200 cases are targeted for review.

The update, delivered by commissioner Judith Beaman in a Toronto courthouse on Monday, comes at the halfway point of the commission’s two-year mandate. It is an exercise that has revealed the scope of the damage caused by Motherisk’s faulty tests, she said.

“A lot of harm was created by the … misuse of these tests, and this fiasco didn’t only affect children, but families and siblings and communities,” she said. “Mercifully, we have found a very small handful of cases where the testing played a determinative role, but even 24 families affected is too many.”

The latest figure adds seven new cases to the total since the commission gave its last update, in November.

A Star investigation exposed questions about the reliability of Motherisk’s hair tests in late 2014, after an Appeal Court decision cast doubt on the use of the results in a 2009 criminal case involving a Toronto mother. The province established the commission on the recommendation of an initial independent review, led by retired judge Susan Lang, who found Motherisk’s hair tests were “unreliable” and “inadequate” for use in child protection and criminal cases.

Throughout the scandal, family lawyers have been among the most vocal critics of the Motherisk lab and of the ubiquity of drug and alcohol hair testing in child protection cases in general.

In its submissions to Lang’s initial review, the Family Lawyers Association said hair testing was used in virtually every child protection case in Ontario where there was a “mere suspicion” of parental drug abuse, and that Motherisk “touted itself as the laboratory of choice for hair drug testing for litigation purposes.”

Sick Kids, which initially defended the reliability of Motherisk’s hair tests, shuttered the lab in 2015 amid an internal review, and issued a public apology. Lang would later conclude that Motherisk’s tests “fell woefully short of internationally recognized forensic standards” and Sick Kids failed to provide meaningful oversight of the lab.

The commission is now identifying cases in which Motherisk tests played a significant role. It is working with affected families and children’s aid societies to provide counselling and legal funding and, in some instances, facilitate reunification.

Yet these are complex cases involving some of society’s most vulnerable families, for whom simply reversing a decision to remove a child may be neither practical nor advisable.

The commission has also had problems tracking down affected parents, whose children’s aid files may have been closed years earlier or contain outdated contact information.

“We understand that very few people are going to walk away from this in a better position from where they are today,” Beaman told a Law Society of Upper Canada workshop in October. “We know that the remedies are extremely few.”

In his remarks to family lawyers on Monday, commission lawyer Lorne Glass said there have so far been “only two cases where we have a good outcome, but we believe there may be more on the horizon.”

One of those cases involves a mother who has had no contact for seven years with her son, who was adopted into another family. She recently won an openness order, and will soon be getting updates — the beginning of a process that she hopes will lead to face-to-face contact, Glass said.

The other case is that of a father whose access to his two daughters was contingent on his continued sobriety — which had to be proven through Motherisk hair tests. After reviewing his case and finding Motherisk hair tests played too significant a role in the custody decision, the commission sent a letter to the child welfare agency, which responded by gradually increasing his access to his children. They are now reunited on an extended access visit.

“That was a good decision in terms of the kids being able to connect with Dad and Dad being able to be a parent to his children,” Glass said.

Beaman has travelled around the province to speak to child welfare workers and community groups, but these sessions have typically been closed to media by the groups that invited her because of privacy concerns, according to a spokesperson for the commission.

The commission’s work relies heavily on children’s aid societies, which are now preparing the next batch of files — 1,200 child protection cases. The commission identified these cases by cross-referencing child protection cases in Ontario’s court filing system with a case list provided by Sick Kids, Glass said.

The earlier phase, which is almost complete, focused on 577 high-priority files — cases in which a final order had not yet been made. The commission has said it will also review any other case involving Motherisk testing at the request of affected parties.

In December, the head of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), which has received $1.5 million in funding from the province to assist with the file review, called on Sick Kids to “stand behind their apology” by committing further financial assistance.

On Monday, OACAS spokeswoman Caroline Newton said, “We have not heard anything from (Sick Kids) … We remain open and would like to work with them on accountability to family and children affected.”

Asked if Sick Kids will commit funding to children’s aid societies, spokesperson Matet Nebres said the hospital “continues to co-operate with Justice Beaman’s ongoing review, and to provide support if and when requested, in order to address the concerns of families who believe that they may have been negatively affected by the Motherisk Drug Testing Lab.”

Sick Kids CEO Michael Apkon has said in the past that the hospital “may need to participate in compensating impacted families.” Sick Kids has been named in several proposed lawsuits.


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The other addictions

EXETER – Much attention is focused on the country’s opioid addiction crisis right now, and while there is no denying the importance of the problem, physicians said we should not forget two other addictions, legal ones, cause numerous health problems.

Alcohol and tobacco can be bought easily. Some people are social drinkers and do not have problems curbing their use, but for others drinking is an addiction and difficult to overcome. Tobacco is highly addictive and while most of us know it causes illnesses like cancer and heart disease, people who smoke struggle with their addiction.

Both can cause life-threatening conditions and, in the case of alcohol, legal problems and a potential danger to others through drunken driving accidents and poor decision making.

Dr. Will Torrey, an addiction specialist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, said alcohol is a complicated substance because it is virtually impossible to live in the United States and not encounter it, or people who struggle with its use. He said alcohol is the third most common cause of preventable deaths, 40 percent of the cause of traffic accidents and that it increases the risk of suicide.

Common health problems associated with alcohol include liver damage (cirrhosis), high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. It interferes with sleep patterns and can contribute to stomach issues. For a pregnant woman, dangers to the fetus can include miscarriage, still births and fetal alcohol syndrome. Torrey said the physical and cognitive problems for a child born to a mother who drinks can be lifelong.

Torrey said alcohol can have a devastating impact on the people closest to an alcoholic, impairing relationships because of the lack of control over behaviors.

“It has a huge economic impact on society,” Torrey said. “Accidents, hospitalizations and legal ramifications associated with alcohol are enormous. It impacts drinkers and non-drinkers. Health costs are huge. What is needed is education, treatment and support.”

Torrey said studies show that successful drinking cessation programs decrease emergency room medical expenses.

“Ultimately one-third of people who use alcohol will have potential health risks,” Torrey said. “Nine percent of adults have some problem with alcohol addiction. Twice as many men as women have difficulties. Most of the addictions happen before age 40, with some later in life.”

Dr. David Buono, a family physician for Core Physicians at Exeter Hospital, said the stereotypical alcoholic, a person who drinks every day is not the only person who may have trouble with alcohol.

“Alcohol use disorder is a broader spectrum of conditions,” Buono said. “We also see health risks for the binge drinkers, those who go out and have a lot of alcohol at once. There are potential issues for the person who has three to four drinks a day, more than the recommended one to two drinks a day. These people are risking health problems, including alcohol toxicity. They may be involved in drunk driving accidents because of impaired driving. They can make poor decisions. They may have problems with their liver, their heart or have high blood pressure.”

Alcoholism is not willful misconduct. Torrey said most alcoholics have some predisposition because there is a genetic component for people to abuse alcohol.

“Currently there are medications that can help, but first a person must have the real desire to stop drinking,” Torrey said. “There are multiple paths to recovery, like AA, support groups and sober recreational facilities.”

Stopping cold is not safe for an alcoholic, Buono said. He said there are dangerous withdrawal symptoms and medical intervention is needed.

“It is a real chemical addiction,” Buono said. “Detox is needed, and the person must be in the right place. They must really want to stop because they are facing a lifetime of work. They are going to need to make significant changes in their lifestyle.”

Torrey said tobacco remains the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States.

“Twenty-five percent of deaths can be attributable in some way to cigarettes,” Torrey said. “The probability of surviving to age 79 is reduced among smokers. Their life expectancy is 10 years lower. There is a huge economic impact, with 8.7 percent of all health care spending attributed to smoking. That about $170 billion a year.”

Dr. Paul Deranian of Core Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Exeter Hospital oversees respiratory therapy and the Intensive Care Unit. He sees his share of conditions related to tobacco.

“Smoking is an addiction that can cause chronic lung conditions, including lung cancer,” said Deranian. “It can cause COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) and can worsen a person’s immune system, their ability to fight off infections. It reduces their ability to clear mucous because the mucous clearing hairs in the airway are the first to go when a person smokes. They are more likely to get pneumonia and it contributes to a variety of cancers.”

Deranian said lung cancer, when it is diagnosed, is often far progressed because lungs have no nerve endings and the person afflicted will not feel pain as a warning sign.

Torrey said smoking contributes to many cancers, including lung, breast, colon and esophageal cancer. It is a factor in heart disease, respiratory infections and increases the risk of stroke. Tobacco can permanently damage the lungs and may increase the progression of osteoporosis.

“When a person stops smoking they will notice the change,” said Deranian. “They will notice they are not coughing as much as they used to. Their skin clears. They can smell better and their food tastes better. They will sleep better.”

Smoking has a negative effect on a fetus if the mother smokes during pregnancy. Torrey said 16 percent of pregnant women smoke, despite being informed of the danger.

“Smoking can lead to ectopic pregnancy, infant mortality and low birth weight,” Torrey said. “Nicotine is incredibly addictive and the pull on people is very strong. There is help and the medications, like Chantix are greatly improved. People using medication find the pleasure they get from smoking will go away. It can be combined with the gum or lozenges. Support through the process is crucial.”

Quitting is rough. Deranian said medications and support can help. He noted the state will provide smoking cessation tools for residents who are concerned with the cost.

“Smoking is a behavior that is ingrained in the people who use tobacco,” Buono said. “They need a game plan for the times they smoke, that morning cigarette, the one while driving and when there is stress. It is important to find new ways to deal with the situations in which they find themselves smoking if they are going to succeed.”

People who smoke are often concerned that if they stop, they will gain weight. Deranian said the weight gain is usually moderate if people are careful.

“They are still far better off than if they continued smoking,” Deranian said. “It’s one of the best things you can do for your health. And the money spent on cigarettes can be better used somewhere else.”

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Mental Problems after Pregnancy Triggered By History of Drug Use


Researchers from the North Carolina State University and the University of British Columbia have found out that a woman’s lifetime history of drug use can actually help predict whether she will suffer from stress and anxiety after childbirth. This finding could help health care professionals screen pregnant women who are at high risk for mental health problems later on so that they are treated earlier.

The researchers claimed that a lot of attention has been created recently regarding the need to include mental health screening in prenatal checkups. This has focused largely on identifying women who may be at risk for postpartum depression, commented Sarah Desmarais, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a journal article on the work.

Mental problems and history of drug use

The researchers noted that their study has two important findings that are relevant to mental health screening among pregnant women. First they were able to find that women are at risk for significant mental health problems after pregnancy other than depression, such as anxiety and stress. Anxiety and stress are also serious issues that also warrant more attention from health care providers. Second, this study emphasizes the importance of acquiring data on a woman’s history of drug use so that health care providers can better identify women who are at high risk for postpartum stress and anxiety, so that more steps can be done to provide the needed care.

The study did not specifically want to focus on drug use but it was aimed at answering whether drug and alcohol use of women can predict how she will have mental health issues after childbirth. A lot of studies have already focused on substance use of women during pregnancy, and the researchers did not think that this is not a reliable way of capturing substance use in women because women will not likely admit that they are using drugs during pregnancy. They don’t admit because they are afraid of losing parental custody, of dealing with social stigma and of being biased in their care and treatment. Also, pregnancy is not the time when women begin to use drugs and alcohol; substance and alcohol use is carried over before pregnancy.

The researchers used data from 100 women in British Columbia who had given birth in the previous three months. These women were from higher socioeconomic backgrounds and were not at high risk for postpartum mental health problems. They were recruited through a large health and wellness study which was not focused on substance abuse. Women in this study were asked about their history of drug and alcohol abuse. The researchers noted that by asking about lifetime drug use, it helped predict whether a woman would experience mental health problems after pregnancy.

According to the researchers, the best predictor of postpartum mental health problems is still a woman’s history of lifetime mental health problems. However drug and alcohol use history also increased the likelihood of having mental health problems. Prior drug use is also associated with increased symptoms of anxiety and stress after childbirth. The researchers also found out that drug use was not associated with postpartum depression and that prior alcohol use was not associated with mental health problems after birth.

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