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Turner: Alcohol-damaged children cost $2m each

Media Statement For immediate release Wednesday, 15 October, 2003

Turner: Alcohol-damaged children cost $2m each

If the Government won't address foetal alcohol syndrome for humanitarian reasons, then it should do so because each sufferer is conservatively estimated to cost the taxpayer at least $2 million during their lifetime, United Future's Judy Turner says.

And with up to three in every 1000 children born with a severe form of the condition, and an estimated one in 100 damaged, but without visible physical symptoms, the problem is a huge one, Mrs Turner, United Future's health spokeswoman, said today.

There are more sufferers than the combined total of those with Down's syndrome, cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis, she said.

"Now I am certainly not here to play down the significance of any other condition, but let's acknowledge the enormity of this issue in a drinking - and often binge-drinking - culture such as we have in New Zealand," she said in Parliament.

In promoting a national registry, early intervention based off that registry and greater education on the dangers of drinking during pregnancy, Mrs Turner pointed to the results of a Seattle Medical School study of more than 400 people with the syndrome:

* 94 percent had mental health problems
* 80 percent were dependent for their daily needs
* 80 percent had employment problems
* 60 percent were diagnosed with ADD
* 60 percent were expelled or had dropped out of school
* 60 percent had been in trouble with the law
* 50 percent had a history of inappropriate sexual behaviour

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"Now put those figures in a New Zealand context," Mrs Turner said.

"Last year 8000 babies were born in this country to teenage mums, and the Alcohol Advisory Council tells us that some 82 percent of those young women drink during their pregnancies - indeed 36 percent of adult women still do so, despite the risks.

"That is the scale of the problem. It's time to put a barrier at the top of the cliff, and do away as best we can with the $2 million a head ambulance at the bottom."

Ends.

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