Guest of Potomac-Bethesda Rotary


Pictured from left to right: Senator Brian Feldman, Susan Rich, Bob Fuhrman – Rotary Pres., and Representative Aruna Miller.

It was a remarkable honor to speak last night to the prestigious group of service-oriented citizen members of the Potomac-Bethesda Rotary Club.  As a public health entrepreneur, I’m grateful to have the support of State Senator Brian Feldman and District 15 Representative Aruna Miller, who attended the Rotary club dinner presentation about my new book – The Silent Epidemic: A Child Psychiatrist’s Journey beyond Death Row.*   Sharing my journey with these remarkable legislators and the imminent Rotary scholars and community leaders was truly humbling.

My main points were to let them know much about the public health warnings and efforts leading up to Prohibition, and the reasons why our society seems deaf to the damage caused to our future generations from a chemical so ubiquitous as alcohol.  None of the Rotarians knew that as little as 4-5 standard servings of beer, wine or liquor exquisitely timed late in the 3rd week post conception can cause the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), or that only 10-15% of children with effects of prenatal alcohol exposure have the identifiable facial characteristics.  They also didn’t know that a Long Island Iced Tea contains nearly 1.5 times the amount of alcohol (6 shots, no tea) to cause FAS.  Since 50% of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned and 13.5% of childbearing age women drink alcohol, we have an epidemic (1 in 20) of affected school-aged children in this country.

They were  dismayed that future generations could be impacted by a process known as “methylation” – the addition of “CH3-switches” placed on DNA’s histone proteins to interfere with the process of translation of the DNA/RNA into protein.  Not only is a child’s neuronal wiring affected by a mother drinking alcohol (i.e., killing the progenitor brain cells that will form important structures of the midline especially), the child’s gonads are affected (their “germ cells” – eggs and sperm) by effects of methylation.  This process affects future generations – even if the mother does not drink.  Since it takes 3 months for the process of spermatogenesis (sperm development) in the male, his use of alcohol can also potentially “methylate” his sperm DNA.   These permanent switches created by preconceptional alcohol exposure are transmitted for generations into the future. Thus, conditions such as alcoholism, chemical dependency, anxiety disorders, and neurodevelopmental disorders are carried down generation after generation – silently within the replication process of DNA.

The fact that most people don’t know that their children and grandchildren may be affected by their inebriated sperm is a problem our society should begin to face. The Better Safe Than Sorry Project, as well at the CDC and the US Surgeon General, recommend for alcohol consumers to avoid alcohol if pregnant or planning pregnancy (for males, this should be 3 months prior to conception); and to avoid pregnancy (i.e., contracept) until they are ready to abstain from alcohol.

In an effort to stem the tide of unintentional prenatal alcohol exposure (and prior to pregnancy recognition), we are hoping to work with the state legislature this fall on a state bill to require “point of purchase” messaging where alcohol is sold.  Forty-one states already have such signage, indicating that those who are pregnant or planning to be should avoid alcohol.  I would hope that we Marylanders would go one step further with an additional statement – “Alcohol consumers should avoid pregnancy (i.e., contracept), since problems can occur with exposure before knowing one is pregnant.”

Remember – alcohol and unprotected sex don’t mix!


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Housing for individuals affected by Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

Since I moved to the Washington, D.C. area in 2001, I have wanted to develop a community for individuals affected by prenatal alcohol exposure – also known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).  Two years ago, I founded 7th Generation Foundation, Inc. in order to begin the development process, including identifying a property to relocate my private practice and have a “home base” for 7th Generation to live and grow.  We now have Dream Catcher Farm in Potomac, a therapeutic farm animal sanctuary where children, adolescents and adults with effects of prenatal alcohol exposure can be evaluated, treated, and receive vocational skills while interacting with gentle farm animals.  While Dream Catcher Farm is still evolving, our board is on its way toward establishing a therapeutic community for young women affected within the womb by our social drug of choice, alcohol.

This article from Canada makes it clear that we are on the right track.  Individuals with FASD require supportive, safe, affordable housing with the opportunity to assist with job training and coaching, life skills, time management, organization, household responsibilities, grocery shopping, and other daily living skills that many of us take for granted.  Looking forward to an article like this being posted one day about the therapeutic community we will build!

Edmonton housing for people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders first of its kind in Canada


Why is there no accountability for prenatal alcohol exposure in alcohol industry advertising?

The lobby of the alcohol industry is as silently powerful as the seductive influence of its subliminal advertising.  Sexy, gorgeous young people posing with our social drug of choice (AKA alcohol) flood the airways, print media and television as though beckoning peers to ‘take this drink so you can be beautiful and sensual, too.’  Such ad campaigns are aimed toward libidinal, primal drives to encourage intercourse – with consumers disinhibited to the point that anyone is a potential mate.  Even a 5th grader knows that a provocative marketing strategy to recruit childbearing age alcohol consumers through basic drive mechanisms (i.e., libidinal disinhibition) is unethical.  Like my then 10 year old daughter said to me on seeing one of these commercials, “Mommy, look.  Those people are drinking alcohol on TV and being all sexy.  They’re going to make a baby with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.” She was right.
Alcohol advertising directed at reproductive age individuals should include warnings that contraceptives are necessary to prevent alcohol-related birth defects, neurodevelopmental issues, and other reproductive health problems that can happen as early as the first three weeks after conception – well before most pregnancies are recognized.  On average, 50% of US pregnancies are unplanned and nearly 15% of American women binge drink between the ages of 18 to 44.  A binge episode is considered at least 4 to 5 servings of alcohol.  For many college students, that’s a light weight pre-game amount.  For some, 12 servings is a small amount to drink over the course of a weekend night.  As little as 4-5 servings of beer, wine or liquor is enough to cause the full blown fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) if perfectly timed in the late 3rd week post conception.  That’s when even those sexy models in the alcohol ads are unaware they may be pregnant.
Why is this one industry immune to the disastrous consequences caused by its product?”  After all, the entire over-the-counter pharmaceutical  industry was transformed by the “Tylenol” crisis of the 1980s when a consumer (not even the manufacturer) tampered with the product leading to several deaths.  Since 1973 when Drs. Ken Jones and David Smith first coined the term “FAS,” over 1.6 million people have been born with this preventable condition…and countless others lost to miscarriage, still birth, sudden infant death syndrome, and birth defects such as anencephaly and spina bifida.  Yet why does the burden, blame and shame rest with the mother?  What about the mothers in my psychiatric practice whose children have ND-PAE because they drank before pregnancy recognition?  Shouldn’t we be shaming the fathers too for causing their sperm DNA to be  methylated by alcohol during the 3 months prior to conception?
In honor of FASD Awareness Day, check out the website for my new book: The Silent Epidemic: A Child Psychiatrist’s Journey beyond Death Row. #Epidemic #NeurodevelopmentalDisorders #PrenatalAlcoholExposure #BiggerthanZika!