Monthly Archives: September 2016




The number of children born with an addiction to opioids has risen dramatically over the past decade, according to a recent CDC report. Everyone has sympathy for these babies, but when it comes to the mothers things get a little more complicated. Do we see them as victims of substance abuse, or as child abusers? In a 2010 paper for Sociological Forum, Kristen W. Springer argues that the answer has a lot to do with race and class.

To understand how the media portrays expectant mothers’ drug use, Springer starts by looking at what drugs pregnant women actually used. A 1992 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 4.5% of pregnant black women used cocaine, compared with under 1% for white and Hispanic women. On the other hand, pregnant white women had higher rates of alcohol and tobacco use—close to 25% for each drug. Among African Americans, under 16% used alcohol and under 20% used tobacco. And for Hispanics, the rates were just 9% and 6%, respectively.

Are mothers with addictions abusers or victims? Our answer almost always depends upon race and class.

As it turns out, research has found the drugs preferred by white women are the ones that are more dangerous to developing fetuses. Despite some early studies suggesting serious harm to babies exposed to cocaine in the womb, more comprehensive work on the subject in the early 2000s found that the drug did not have the lasting impact on children that alcohol and tobacco can.

To see how these actual dangers matched up with media portrayals, Springer analyzed more than 100 New York Times stories published between 1985 and 2002 about pregnant women’s use of alcohol, tobacco, and crack cocaine. She found that stories related to crack use were far more likely to be framed in ways that blamed the mothers. Sixty-three percent of stories about pregnant women’s use of crack employed what Springer refers to as the “bad mother” frame, suggesting abuse or neglect. In contrast, only 11% of the stories about alcohol use and 8% of those about tobacco used this frame.

Beyond the different portrayals of drugs associated with people of different races, Springer also found that white and non-white mothers were depicted differently, even when the drug involved was the same. Articles focused on white crack users and their babies were less likely to use negative frames than those about women of other races, and the same was true with alcohol and tobacco.

Interestingly, race alone did not explain all the differences Springer found in the portrayals of mothers’ drug use. Within each drug category, women from lower socioeconomic classes were more likely than their wealthier counterparts to be shown as “bad mothers.”

When it comes to the current crisis of pregnant women’s opioid use, the fact that users are disproportionately white means they might avoid the specifically racist “bad mother” stereotypes. But it wouldn’t be surprising if the level of sympathy or blame extended to drug-addicted new mothers depends a great deal on whether the media focuses on middle-class suburbs or poorer white communities.

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The Brain–from Womb to Tomb


The Brain–from Womb to Tomb

From IQ to mental illness, how prenatal life affects the brain

It was on the cover of The New York Times Book Review. And the cover of Time Magazine. Suddenly, the obscure science of “fetal origins” is getting popular, in the pages of a new book called “Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives.”

Written by science journalist Annie Murphy Paul, “Origins” explores the still-murky but growing research into how the environment in the womb can affect a baby’s life ever after — including the life of the mind. A few questions for the author:

Q; In “Origins,” you describe myriad ways that the prenatal environment appears to influence the fetus. What do we know about the effects of the womb on the brain?
A: Fetal origins is very much an emerging science, so we know less than
we would like about the effects of the prenatal environment on the
brain. We do know, of course, that the brain is formed during the nine
months of gestation, and that a number of influences during this
period–chemical exposures, stress, depression, drug and alcohol use,
nutrition–can have effects on the brain, showing up in things like
measures of neural conduction speed, tests of cognitive ability, and
IQ scores.

Q: Many pregnant women worry that their own emotional state, particularly stress, will affect the fetus. How would you sum up the findings on that?
A: The findings on the effects of prenatal stress are twofold. It’s
fairly well established that traumatic stress–severe,
life-threatening stress, like that experienced in a natural disaster
or war–is associated with a higher risk of premature delivery, low
birth weight, and in some studies, birth defects. Chronic stresses
like those associated with poverty and discrimination may also have
deleterious effects. Moderate stress, however–the everyday hassles
experienced by your typical working woman or woman caring for other
children–actually appears to accelerate fetal brain development,
leading to faster neural conduction speed as infants and higher scores
on tests of cognitive ability as toddlers.

Q: And what is known about the possible origins of mental illness in the womb?
A: A number of studies on different populations suggests that severe
prenatal stress or malnutrition, particularly in the first trimester
of pregnancy, is associated with a higher risk of schizophrenia among
offspring. Higher rates of this mental illness have been found, for
example, in individuals whose mothers were pregnant during the Nazi
siege of Holland during World War II, during the famine that followed
China’s “Great Leap Forward,” and during the Arab-Israeli War of 1967.
A more speculative theory is that women’s own mental states of
depression or anxiety affect the offspring’s own likelihood of
developing mental illness, perhaps through the effects of the stress
hormone cortisol. Dr. Catherine Monk at Columbia University is doing
fascinating work, measuring the responses to stress exhibited by
fetuses of depressed and non-depressed women. She believes that
intrauterine conditions may be a “third way” that mental illness is
passed down in families, along with genes and parenting behaviors.

Q: One fascinating theory suggests that the womb may be the arena of a fight between the fetus’s heart and its brain for resources. How does that work?
A: A theory originally put forth by British physician David Barker (and
long known as “the Barker hypothesis”) proposes that when a fetus
receives insufficient nutrition, it will “make the best of a bad job”
by diverting most of the nutrients it does receive to the organ most
critical to its survival: the brain. This act of triage allows it to
survive to be born and perhaps even grow into middle age–but at some
point the early deprivation experienced by the heart and other organs
shows up in increased rates of heart disease and other illnesses.

Q: You mention that the prenatal environment may account for something like 20% of IQ. Really? And how best can we make smarter babies?
A: To be more precise, a study published in Nature by researcher Bernard
Devlin and his coauthors found that in their analysis of twin studies
of IQ, the intrauterine environment accounted for 20 percent of IQ
similarity between twins, and genes for only 34 percent. Devlin’s
point was that in drawing conclusions from such studies (which were
used to buttress the assertions in the book “The Bell Curve,” for
example), we must take into account not only genes and childhood
environment, but also the very FIRST environment that twins share: the

In terms of making smarter babies, the best advice to pregnant women
is to eat a wholesome diet, refrain from drinking alcohol and using
drugs, protect yourself from environmental toxins, and try to
alleviate excessive stress. There’s some preliminary evidence that
physical exercise by the pregnant woman may promote offspring’s
intelligence, and it can’t hurt. But forget about playing Mozart to
the fetus and other “prenatal education” products–they won’t increase
intelligence and may even be harmful.

Q: There’s also a theory that links the prenatal environment and homosexuality. How would that work?
A: It’s a well-established finding that homosexual men are more likely to
have older brothers. The theory–and it’s still speculative–is that
the body of a woman carrying a male child generates antibodies in
response to her fetus which stay on in her body after she gives birth.
When she becomes pregnant again with another male child, those
antibodies affect the developing brain of the fetus in ways that
incline the offspring towards homosexuality. It’s an intriguing theory
but one that needs a lot more substantiation.

Q: What do  you say to mothers who protest that “fetal origins” research is just more reason for even more maternal guilt?
A: I would say, first: I totally sympathize. I was pregnant when I
researched and reported “Origins,” and I had to work through a lot of
my own anxiety and guilt. What I came to realize is that the science
of fetal origins is growing so rapidly that we are only going to hear
more and more about how prenatal conditions affect later health and
well-being–so we need to find a more positive and productive way of
thinking and talking about these findings, one that neither dismisses
them out of hand nor makes us crazy with worry. I also found the
excitement and optimism of the fetal-origins researchers I talked to
rather contagious: they see pregnancy as a scientific frontier, a
wonderful new opportunity to head off public health problems like
obesity and diabetes. So I came, over the months that I was writing
“Origins,” to see pregnancy in that light–as a physical, emotional,
and intellectual adventure.

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‘Give them a chance’: A son’s struggle with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

By Curtis Mandeville, CBC News Posted: Sep 22, 2016 


The father of a man who went missing in Dettah, N.W.T., last month is sharing the story of his son’s turbulent past in hopes of reminding people that everyone deserves a second chance.

21-year-old Mark Lynn went missing on Aug. 24. Earlier this month, after two weeks of searching, human remains found near the community were confirmed by the RCMP to be Lynn’s.

The cause of death has not been determined.

‘The beginning of the downfall’

“[Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder] was certainly a difficulty for him,” said Mark’s father, Jim Lynn.

Mark Lynn

Jim Lynn said he was not aware his son had Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder when he adopted him as a baby. (Submitted by Jim Lynn)

According to Jim, the symptoms associated with the disorder wreaked havoc on Mark’s life from an early age.

Struggling with behavior and basic decision making, Mark started getting into trouble with teachers and other authoritative figures.

“A lot of those things he seemed to do at school… he didn’t share… at home,” said Jim.

That’s why it “kind of came as a shock,” when Mark’s teachers began calling.

According to Jim, those phone calls were the beginning of a long struggle with the education system.

By the time Mark was 11, he had been expelled from Yellowknife’s Weledeh Catholic School and from Kaw Tay Whee School in Dettah.

Jim says Mark was then prohibited from attending any public or Catholic schools in Yellowknife.

“That was the beginning of the downfall for my son really,” said Jim remorsefully.

“The kids [are] saying ‘you’re so dumb, you’re so stupid, you’re so bad. No school will even accept you, no school will even take you.'”

Mark Lynn

Jim said Mark started getting into trouble with teachers and other authoritative figures at an early age. (Submitted by Jim Lynn)

Jim said he pleaded with the Catholic school board to readmit his son. According to Jim, the board agreed to let Mark back on the condition that he seek treatment to address his behavior.

But the struggles continued, and Mark’s attendance was sporadic until Grade 9, when he dropped out for good.

CBC contacted both the Yellowknife Education District No.1 and the Yellowknife Catholic school boards. Neither board could not deny nor confirm Mark Lynn’s school history due to confidentiality.

Love hockey, biking, ‘anything with sports’

Jim said the family spent the years that followed trying to get Mark into counselling, but he remained closed off, and on many occasions refused to talk.

Meanwhile, Jim tried to encourage his son to eke out whatever enjoyment and happiness he could.

“He loved his hockey. He loved to go biking actually… he loved to ski board… anything with sports, anything with outdoors, he certainly enjoyed.”

But Mark’s disorder, combined with the alcohol that made its way into his life at age 13, brought his behavioural problems to a whole new level, and Jim reached a breaking point last spring.

Mark had returned home after a night of drinking and became enraged — verbally and physically lashing out.

“I reached the end and thought that, you know, one way or another… he’s got to learn that’s… not acceptable. So the police were called and a restraining order was put on him.”

Jim said Mark left home immediately, and spent the next few months living on the streets.

Finally happy, but it didn’t last long

In a last-ditch effort to help, Jim rented his son a place to live, but the landlord refused to renew the lease, and Mark went to live with relatives.

The stability of living with family started to show, and Jim said his son started to turn his life around.

Mark stopped smoking marijuana and landed a job at one of the diamond mines.

Mark Lynn

21-year-old Mark Lynn went missing on Aug. 24 near Dettah. Earlier this month, human remains found near the community were confirmed to be those of Mark’s. (Yellowknife RCMP)

Jim said his son was finally “happy,” but it didn’t last for long. Shortly after beginning work, Mark’s employer learned he had criminal charges pending, and he was told not to return until they were settled.

“That just tore him apart… and to my mind it was a fatal, fatal thing.”

Jim said his son returned to his old lifestyle of doing drugs, drinking, and dealing — and he often wonders what would have happened if his son had been met with a more compassionate and understanding response.

“You give them a chance. You not only give them a chance when they’re… innocent but even after they’re found guilty.”

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Participants wanted for Canadian FASD Media Coverage Study!


Participants wanted for a group interview study about FASD!
We want to talk to you about your experiences with FASD. In particular, we want to hear your thoughts and feelings about examples of Canadian FASD media coverage, to think about how to more effectively communicate information about FASD. Your perspective will be invaluable in helping us to better understand FASD, and the way it is discussed in the public sphere.

Who can participate?
We want to include key stakeholders, like: 1) adults with FASD; 2) parents of and caregivers for people with FASD; 3) healthcare professionals with experience diagnosing or caring for patients with FASD; and 4) FASD communicators (e.g., journalists, public health officials).

What does the study look like?
This study will involve participation in a 90-minute group interview in English. Each interview will include only one stakeholder group at a time (e.g., only adults with FASD, only parents). You will be compensated for your time.

How can I get involved?
If you feel you match the above criteria, please send an email to:
We will send you a brief online questionnaire to fill out, as well as the informed consent
document for you to look over when deciding whether or not to participate. Sending us an email does not mean you have agreed to participate, and you can choose to stop at any time.

For more information or if you have any questions, please contact John Aspler at:, or at (514) 987-5500 (extension 3356).

Study Title: Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the Canadian print news media: A study of media discourse and key stakeholder perspectives

This study is conducted by an interdisciplinary team of bioethicists and scientists:

John Aspler, BSc, Doctoral candidate, Neuroethics Research Unit, Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM).

Eric Racine, PhD, Director of the Neuroethics Research Unit, Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM), 110 avenue des Pins Ouest, Montréal QC H2W 1R7, Tel.: 514 987-5723, email:

James Reynolds, PhD, Centre for Neuroscience Studies, Queens University.

Check out the previous blog post on FASD and Media Click here!


Facts About Alcohol Women Should Know


Most women have engaged in alcohol consumption at some point of time. It might happen to be to satisfy their curiosity, from peer pressure, on their twenty first birthday bash, or simply as part of a celebration. But there are certain facts about alcohol that women must know. Alcohol might help us unwind and enjoy the moment. But you will find women who consume alcohol in excess and also frequently. The result is that it could take a toll on their lives and their health. Consuming significant quantities of alcohol puts women in danger of suffering from health problems including cancer, diabetes and liver problems.

Alcohol depletes the body of the essential nutrients. Most alcoholic women do not eat a healthful diet either. The booze consumed remains in the bloodstream. This ends up playing havoc with the whole body functions.


There are certain facts about alcohol that women should know. Women who drink alcohol on a daily basis are more prone to suffer from breast cancer than women who do not consume alcohol.


Women who drink alcohol while trying to conceive or during pregnancy can cause harm to their foetus. These babies who have alcohol-consuming mothers develop learning and behavioural problems and also are sometimes born abnormal.

Women cannot break down alcohol as efficiently as men. Alcohol consumption in women can also affect their menstrual cycles. It ends up causing stillbirth, premature delivery, miscarriage and infertility.


Alcohol consumption can also cause damaging effects to the brain of women more than men. It also causes alcohol related liver diseases and liver cirrhosis more in women than in men. It has also been found that alcohol addiction runs in the family. According to research, women have been found to be more dependent on alcohol than men. It has been found that among men and women who consume alcohol on a daily basis, women are more prone to become alcoholics.

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FASD, Stigma and the “Immediate Jump”

FASD Research Project

A recent event held at the University of Regina brought together families, people with FASD, frontline workers, policy makers and researchers to discuss Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This event focused on creating a space for collaboration in the area of research with a focus on the perspectives of those with FASD and their families. The event included discussions in four key areas including: (1) aging, (2)  FASD as a whole body disorder, (3) effective supports and services and (4) advocating for effective community supports and services.

The President of the University of Regina, Dr. Vianne Timmons, spoke about her own experiences assisting her daughter, Kelly, who lives with FASD. Vianne struck a chord with the audience as she shared her story. She then took her message to the media,  a message about the challenges of growing up with the disability and the ways in which stigma impacts the lives of families and those…

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‘I have a deficit’: Sparse coffers delaying more action on addiction, says Alberta health minister


uploaded-by-janet-french-email-jfrenchpostmedia-com5Arron Sharphead, 23, works on a poster at Recover Day Edmonton, Sunday, Sept. 18. The annual event is to bring awareness and counter stigma for people recovering from addictions and to help connect people with relevant services. JANET FRENCH / POSTMEDIA NEWS

The province’s precarious finances are preventing the government from taking “massive” steps it would like to take to improve addiction treatment in Alberta, the health minister said Sunday.

“I have a deficit and the price of oil is a fraction of what we’re (used to) seeing it at,” Health Minister and Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman said at an addiction recovery awareness event. “We are continuing to invest in resources in that area, but of course we’d like to provide far greater than we are today.”

Alberta needs hundreds more addiction treatment beds, and inpatient programs that run for at least 90 days — not the current 18 day stint, said Mike Ryan, chief mentor and program director of the youth advocacy and mentorship organization Clean Scene.

Ryan was the spokesman for Edmonton’s fourth annual Recovery Day, which gathered people in a Little Italy park Sunday to celebrate recovery from addiction and counter the shame some people feel about the problem.

People ready to seek help for addiction must wait as long as three months for access to a bed in a detoxification program, Ryan said. By then, they may have changed their mind and relapsed.

“When you want to make a change in your life, you need to move quickly,” Ryan said.

Mike Ryan, chief mentor and program director of the youth advocacy and mentorship organization Clean Scene, said Alberta needs more treatment beds for people who decide to kick their addictions.
Mike Ryan, chief mentor and program director of the youth advocacy and mentorship organization Clean Scene, said Alberta needs more treatment beds for people who decide to kick their addictions. JANET FRENCH /POSTMEDIA NEWS

Ryan wants Alberta Health Services to take a new approach to guiding recovery, by adopting a mentorship model that matches people with others who have recovered from addiction, instead of an addictions counselling method that is too laden with bureaucracy, he said.

He joined some politicians and bereaved families and friends in calling on the health minister to declare fentanyl addiction a public health emergency in Alberta. B.C.’s chief medical health officer declared such an emergency last April after a rash of fentanyl deaths.

Alberta tallied 153 deaths from fentanyl overdoses during the first six months of 2016, and 274 deaths during 2015.

Ryan blamed the stigma surrounding addiction for a lack of government action. Any other emergent health problem with such a rising death toll would be treated as a crisis, he said.

Hoffman said she has discussed the possibility of calling a public health emergency with ministry officials, and they don’t believe it’s necessary in Alberta. One provincial health region allows sites to share data more freely than in other provinces, she said. The law giving more power to public health officials and nurses is designed for outbreaks of infectious diseases, she said.

“I want to make sure that we’re focusing the resources on where they’re going to make the best difference. Tying up legal counsel, bringing forward a public health emergency when it wouldn’t give us any additional tools, I don’t think it’s a good (use) of the public funds today,” Hoffman said.

The government initiated a mental health and addictions review shortly after taking office in May 2015, the minister said. As a result, government has announced or added 50 more detoxification beds, and made fentanyl’s antidote, naloxone, more widely available. The ministry has also pumped more money this year into methadone clinics, which help wean people off their addictions to painkillers and other opioids.

Opening three additional youth detox beds in Calgary has decreased the wait time to one day from 13 days, Hoffman’s press secretary, Laura Ehrkamp, said in an email. Same-day access is available for youths in Edmonton, she said. The average wait time now for an adult bed is about 20 days.

Hoffman said she hears Ryan’s concern, and said anyone who is ready to enter addictions treatment should have immediate access to a program.

“We want to make sure that the service is available to help them,” Hoffman said. “We still have work to do.”

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