Alaska Installs Free Pregnancy Tests in Bar Bathrooms to Curb Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

By May Wilkerson 06/17/15

Alaska has a high rate of fetal alcohol syndrome.

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A new state-funded program in Alaska aims to curb the rate of binge drinking among pregnant women by giving out free pregnancy tests at bars.

Alaska has a high rate of binge drinking among women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State health officials estimate that more than 120 children born each year in the state suffer from symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome, which range from mental and physical disabilities, to organ damage and impaired growth.

The new program hopes to reduce prenatal alcohol exposure by reaching women in early pregnancy who may not realize they’re expecting. There are currently four bars in the state participating in the project, with plans to expand.

One is Peanut Farm, a bar in Anchorage, which has begun dispensing the free tests affixed to posters in the women’s bathroom. One poster shows a silhouette of a pregnant woman drinking from a beer bottle and reads: "Remember the last time you had sex? Were you drinking? Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause lifelong problems for the child." Women who use the dispensers are also encouraged to take an online survey.

The two-year pilot project is being conducted by the University of Alaska Anchorage in an attempt to find out if providing pregnancy tests is more effective than displaying the warning posters alone. "We're always looking for ways to try and improve our ability to provide information," says David Driscoll, who runs the study.

The $400,000 project could have monetary as well as health benefits, since one person with fetal alcohol syndrome can cost the state millions of dollars in health care, education, and social services throughout his or her lifetime.

"A lot of women now understand that they shouldn't drink [while pregnant]," says Deb Evensen, an Alaska-based expert in fetal alcohol syndrome prevention. "But a lot of people are still drinking in early pregnancy and before they know they're pregnant—and that can cause a lot of damage."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.