FILE - PA Tom Murt, Jen Smith, Jean Searle 9-9-2019

Pennsylvania state Rep Tom Murt speaks Sept. 9, 2019, as Jen Smith, secretary of Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Programs (center) and advocate Jean Searle look on during a news conference in Harrisburg.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Tom Murt and other advocates stepped to a microphone Monday in the capitol building rotunda with a direct and simple message: fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is an entirely preventable condition with a solution.

The solution, they said, is that women who are trying to become pregnant or who make choices that could lead to pregnancy should not drink any alcohol at all.

“By declaring September 2019 as fetal alcohol syndrome Awareness Month in Pennsylvania, we're taking an important step forward in educating women who consume alcohol, and are or who could become pregnant,” Murt said. “We ask everyone to understand that consuming alcohol, even the smallest amount can cause serious problems for children.”

Murt, a Republican from Hatboro in the Philadelphia suburbs, said that FASD affects more newborns than “than spina bifida, Down syndrome, and muscular dystrophy combined.”

Jen Smith, secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, provided even more insight on the scope of the FASD issue in the state. She said that numbers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show one in 100 children will be born with FASD each year, and for children affected, negative outcomes are much higher than for children who aren’t.

“About 80 percent of individuals with FASD enter the foster or adoptive care system,” Smith said. “Approximately 50 percent will have a disrupted school experience, like suspension or expulsion. More than 60 percent will encounter problems with law enforcement. And more than one third of these individuals will develop a substance use disorder.”

Also invited to speak was Jean Searle, a Pennsylvania woman who lives with the effects of FASD. She spoke haltingly but passionately about how the condition has made it hard for her to function on a cognitive level.

“I do have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder,” Searle said. “I was born with it, my mom was drinking when she was pregnant with seven children. I do have major disability issues. I do have a hard time concentrating on stuff I do. My mind does wander in a different direction.”

Murt said that some who are affected have extreme mental and physical difficulties.

“Fetal alcohol syndrome covers a wide range of problems, including hyperactivity and heart problems, deformed limbs, poor social skills, problems seeing and hearing, kidney defects, and delayed development in thinking speech and movement,” he said. “What is so frustrating is that these conditions are easily preventable.”

Murt currently has a resolution to declare September as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Month pending before the House Human Services Committee.

Regional Editor

Dave Lemery is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience. He was the editor of Suburban Life Media when its flagship newspaper was named best weekly in Illinois, and he has worked at papers in South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York.