Gov. Frank Murkowski is calling on the Legislature to approve $7.1 million in increased funding for state programs that prevent substance abuse and fetal alcohol syndrome.
Of the requested amount, $6 million would go to substance abuse programs, and $1.1 million would go toward FAS prevention efforts.
The state now spends roughly $13 million on such programs, said Janet Clarke, assistant commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services. Some substance abuse programs have been integrated with mental health funding in recent years.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is caused by alcohol consumption by pregnant women. It destroys developing cells in the fetus and can lead to brain damage and mental retardation in the child.
"Substance abuse and fetal alcohol syndrome are major problems in Alaska, and my administration is committed to building healthier communities," Murkowski said Wednesday in a prepared statement. "These funds will be used to strengthen our current prevention efforts and will ultimately improve the quality of life for all Alaskans."
Laura Rorem of Juneau said prevention of FAS is important but so is helping people deal with the disorder. She and her husband, Larry, have worked to educate the community about FAS.
"We're both excited about prevention," she said. "But we're also concerned that there be lifetime treatment for those already born with fetal alcohol syndrome, and that involves money as well."
To Larry Rorem, pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, diagnosing fetal alcohol syndrome is the first step in helping those affected reach their full potential.
"As we grow in our awareness of the learning patterns and some of the unique characteristics that are part of an FAS brain, we can bring out the best possible potential that that child has," he said.
Larry Rorem said efforts to help those living with the disorder would save the state untold dollars in prison costs. FAS affects the central nervous system, causing problems with behavior and impulsiveness.
Substance abuse can cost the state about $600 million annually in public assistance and treatment, Health and Social Services Commissioner Joel Gilbertson said in a written statement.
"Beyond the monetary costs, the human cost of ruined lives and broken families is an immeasurable and ongoing tragedy," he said.
The proposed funds will be used for educational programs and could help communities interested in responding to alcoholism, said Cristy Willer, deputy director for the Division of Behavioral Health. The funds could be used to develop videos and other materials to help communities with alcohol problems learn options for converting into dry communities, she added.
Murkowski will release the rest of his 2006 budget proposal on Dec. 15.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at email@example.com.