Tom Donaldson, president and CEO of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS), received the Senator Harold Hughes Memorial Award today from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIAAA Deputy Director Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D., announced his selection during the 135th meeting of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The Hughes Award recognizes the contributions of a non-researcher whose work translates research into practice, and builds bridges across the alcohol prevention, treatment and policy making communities. The award is named for Harold Hughes, a former Governor of Iowa and U.S. Senator, and a major force behind the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Act of 1970, which created NIAAA. Until his death in 1996, Senator Hughes remained active in the alcohol field, founding recovery centers and raising awareness about alcohol’s impact on health.
“Our nation is indebted to Tom Donaldson and his decades-long dedication to using current alcohol research to raise awareness about FASD and prevent pregnant women from drinking,” said Dr. Warren. “Thanks to his tireless efforts, the public and members of Congress are now equipped with research-based facts about the dangers of prenatal alcohol exposure. There are now countless people born free of FASD symptoms thanks to Tom’s incredible hard work. On behalf of NIAAA, I am very pleased to present him with the Hughes Award today.”
Donaldson has served as the CEO of NOFAS since 1998 and as its president since 2002. NOFAS aims to prevent fetal alcohol exposure and works to educate the public, practitioners, and policymakers about the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Prenatal alcohol exposure is the leading preventable cause of birth defects in the United States. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) represents the range of effects and symptoms that can result from prenatal alcohol exposure. FASD can cause a range of developmental, cognitive, and behavioral problems, which can appear at any time during childhood and last a lifetime.
Under Donaldson’s leadership, NOFAS has established a network of 40 affiliated organizations, expanded services to all 50 states, and helped ensure a significant increase in federal and state investment in FASD-related research. NIAAA consistently shares research information with Donaldson and collaborates on various projects. Nearly 20 years ago, NOFAS developed the first FASD medical school curriculum with NIAAA and in 2014 plans to launch a companion multi-media, online course for medical and allied health students and practitioners. NOFAS has created numerous alcohol and pregnancy public health promotion campaigns informed by NIAAA. It disseminates information to the general public and through networks such as federally qualified community health centers. In addition, NOFAS uses NIAAA screening methods and materials for its clinical interventions that assist women of child-bearing age with alcohol use disorders.
Donaldson hopes his receipt of the Hughes Award will heighten awareness of the issues surrounding FASD. “The vast majority of Americans who drink enhance their lifestyle with alcohol, but for some there are consequences,” said Donaldson. “Senator Hughes not only understood these concerns, but had the will to make a difference. There is no greater acknowledgment that FASD is a significant health risk that must be prevented and treated than the Hughes Award from NIAAA.”
Donaldson has also served on a variety of boards and committees aiming to address prenatal alcohol exposure, including the Steering Committee of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Center for Excellence, a federal initiative devoted to preventing and treating FASD. He has also served as a liaison representative to the National Task Force on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effect, a congressionally mandated task force charged with advising government agencies, universities, and community groups on issues related to prenatal alcohol exposure and educating populations at risk for or suffering from FASD.