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Prevalence and characteristics of adults with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in corrections: a Canadian case ascertainment study [2019]

Background
Individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) experience a range of cognitive, affective, and physical deficits following prenatal alcohol exposure. They are thought to be overrepresented in criminal justice settings. However, limited evidence is available to inform prevalence. We sought to estimate the prevalence of FASD in a Northern Canadian correctional population.

Methods
Using an active case ascertainment approach we recruited a representative sample of 80 justice-involved adults (ages 18–40, 85% male) over an 18-month period from 2013 to 2015. Participants completed interdisciplinary clinical assessments comprising medical and psychological evaluations that adhered to the 2005 Canadian FASD Diagnostic Guidelines.

Results
We identified a high rate of FASD (17.5, 95% CI [9.2, 25.8%]) in this sample, and this rate could have been as high as 31.2% with confirmation of prenatal alcohol exposure. Most participants in this study presented with significant neurodevelopmental and cognitive deficits in at least two domains of functioning, irrespective of diagnosis, with only five of 80 participants (6.3%) demonstrating no cognitive impairment.

Conclusions
Findings showed disproportionately high estimated FASD prevalence in this representative sample compared to general population estimates in both Canada and the U.S. (2–5%), underscoring the need for improved FASD screening and diagnosis in correctional settings, and education for clinicians working in the justice context. Strengthened health prevention and intervention efforts to support the needs of individuals with FASD outside the criminal justice context are needed.

K. McLachlan, A. McNeil, J. Pei, U. Brain, G. Andrew and T. F. Oberlander
BMC Public Health, 2019 19:43
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