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Where the crack baby "epidemic" came from - Input Junkie
May 25th, 2010
08:44 am


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Where the crack baby "epidemic" came from
Much more detail than much of anyone was paying attention to at the time:

So what, exactly, does the medical research show about the effects of cocaine on infants exposed in utero? And what caused the so-called "crack babies" to seem so sickly?

As it turns out, those scrawny infants in the neonatal intensive care units who made for such dramatic video had mothers whose problems went far beyond crack cocaine. For one, most of their babies hadn't received prenatal care. Often as a result, they were born premature.

Premature birth can be caused by all sorts of medical problems that might well have been caught and treated if the mother had gotten health care during pregnancy. These problems can damage a child, even when they have no direct connection to drug use. In fact, prematurity is demonstrably much riskier for fetuses compared to a mother's use of cocaine.

When the media showed images of "crack babies," it was often depicting prematurity rather than signs of drug exposure. High-pitched cries and jerky movements, for instance, are common in preemies. (On the other hand, some babies born too early--and some cocaine-exposed infants as well--act abnormally calm, or "floppy." But these newborns weren't chosen by the media to illustrate the "crack baby" problem.)

In addition, many "crack babies" were actually withdrawing from heroin and other opiates that their mothers had used along with cocaine, alcohol and tobacco. Opiate withdrawal leads to jerking and shaking--but cocaine was blamed for these symptoms, even though it doesn't cause withdrawal illness. While withdrawal from opiates is unpleasant for the infant, being exposed to them before birth does no lasting harm. Alcohol and tobacco, on the other hand, can seriously damage fetuses. Not surprisingly, both of these legal substances were widely used by "crack mothers."

To make matters worse, these mothers also typically had long histories of poverty and victimization. More than two thirds had been sexually abused as children or were current victims of domestic violence. It was also quite common for them to have witnessed traumatic events, like seeing a relative murdered. Most were depressed.

All these stressors, particularly in combination, can seriously threaten a pregnancy. And they're probably a big reason "crack mothers" sought chemical escape in the first place. Profound stress is believed to be such an important factor in prematurity and other neonatal development problems that the March of Dimes' Campaign to Prevent Birth Defects recently targeted stress as a priority research area.

In other news, obesity will cause the current generation to have shorter lifespans than its parents.

Link from Mind Hacker.

(2 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:May 25th, 2010 02:49 pm (UTC)
Indeed. Some of this counter evidence was cited at the time. The problem was the "crack baby" narrative fit with several widely accepted narratives. The race narrative and the crime narrative (which often go hand in hand) and the "bad mother" narrative. And gathering evidence of complex problems is boring.

I should point out we see hysteria driven policy (or wish fulfillment policy) driven in other areas. The late'80s and early '90s saw an emphasis on AIDS education and prevention entirely out of proportion with the nature of the illness. (By this I mean things like requiring medical professionals to have mandatory annual continuing ed credits on AIDS/HIV, not inclusion of AIDS prevention as part of sex ed.) And remember the movement to give every newborn a recording of Motzart?
[User Picture]
Date:May 25th, 2010 03:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I've improved the link text.
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