Free Pregnancy Tests Coming to a Bar Near You

In Alaska, women of child-bearing age are 20 percent more likely to binge drink than the national average.

Most people wouldn’t think to pick up a pregnancy test with their vodka-cranberry, but researchers in Alaska are hoping that female bar-goers will do just that in the hopes of addressing the state’s issues with fetal alcohol syndrome, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).

The University of Alaska has been given $400,000 for a two-year study in which posters that warn women about the dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant will be pasted on pregnancy test dispensers in bars throughout Alaska. Three major cities and several rural hubs have been selected for the experiment, which will determine if this method is more effective than simply hanging pregnancy test dispensers on a wall. The head of the agency overseeing the project said free condoms will also be available at each site.

As many as 5,000 tests will be distributed, according to the project proposal. The research study is also supported by Sen. Pete Kelly, a Republican from Fairbanks, as part of the state’s multi-million dollar effort to help prevent birth defects.

"This is not a strategy for the chronic alcoholic who is drinking regardless of whatever message they see," said Jody Allen Crowe, founder of a Minnesota non-profit that has installed test dispensers in bars and who is also overseeing the Alaska project. “This is really focused on the 50 percent of unexpected pregnancies, to find out they are pregnant as early as possible."

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in the United States

Although it’s unclear how many people in the U.S. have experienced FASD, studies from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that an FASD occurs in 0.2 to 1.5 out of every 1,000 live births in the U.S. Alaska has among the highest rates in the country for this; those born in Alaska in 1996 showed a rate of 20 instances of FASD per 10,000 births.

However, a 2010 study showed a 32 percent drop in the rate of kids in Alaska born with the disorder. State health officials attribute the decline to a $29 million grant obtained by former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, who used the money for prevention and treatment of FASD.

“The lifetime care for a person with fetal alcohol syndrome is estimated at $4 million, said Diane Casto, a manager in the state Division of Behavioral Health. "If we prevent one birth, we reduce the cost for our service delivery system, for developmental disability care."

Pregnancy tests aren’t the only freebies found in bathrooms. Condom dispensers can often be found in bar and gas station restrooms, although there is often a $1 charge for each condom.

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