Criminal Justice

From Crack Babies to Normal Kids


Yesterday, in an article headlined "The Epidemic That Wasn't," The New York Times took a calm, measured look at the latest research on children who were exposed to cocaine in the womb. Instead of the mentally and socially retarded cripples predicted in the late 1980s early '90s, it finds kids very much like their non-cocaine-exposed peers. Researchers who try to control for confounding variables that tend to be associated with a mother's crack habit find that there may be some subtle lingering effects, but nothing like the devastating lifelong damage predicted two decades ago:

Experts say [cocaine's] effects are less severe than those of alcohol and are comparable to those of tobacco—two legal substances that are used much more often by pregnant women, despite health warnings….

Cocaine use in pregnancy has been treated as a moral issue rather than a health problem, [Boston University pediatrician Deborah] Frank said. Pregnant women who use illegal drugs commonly lose custody of their children, and during the 1990s many were prosecuted and jailed….

"Society's expectations of the children," [Frank] said, "and reaction to the mothers are completely guided not by the toxicity, but by the social meaning" of the drug.

Until the government starts locking up mothers who drink wine or smoke cigarettes during pregnancy (not a policy I'm recommending), it should stop pretending that the harsh treatment of cocaine-using mothers is all about saving children.

Last year I discussed a South Carolina Supreme Court decision that overturned the homicide conviction of a cocaine user who received a 20-year sentence after her baby was stillborn. In 2007 I noted the role of the "crack baby" myth in establishing the draconian federal sentences for possession of smokable cocaine. In 2005 I noted the emergence of "meth babies."

NEXT: Timidity in the Face of Fiscal Recklessness Is No Vice

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  1. Becuas eits always about the kids. OH lord the gov must save the chillins from the evil of the world, because i am not a parent who parents his/her child. oh please dear lord gov help the chillins

    1. ok so u say this person is not qualified well what makes u think that u r qualified. i mean how do u no that thats jst how u r naturally. i mean like u said this person isnt a doctor but u aint either so what qualifies u to say that that is in fact the reason that u r like that. how do u not no that there r other factors to u being slow i mean i no people who r as u describe urself and they’ve never ever been exposed. so yes this person might not be qualified but neither r u so dnt think that jst bc people qualify cocaine as a drug does not mean that it is entirely wrong and besides frm wut ive researched the effects of a baby having defecis are not greater then those of a tabacoo user

  2. Surely all the hare-brained laws and programs that popped up to combat this non-phenomenon will now be discontinued now that we know it was all bullshit.


    “In 2005 I noted the emergence of “meth babies.””

    Does that mean that these “beanie babies” I hear so much about are babies born to bean addicted mothers?

  3. Instead of the mentally and socially retarded cripples predicted in the late 1980s early ’90s, it finds kids very much like their non-cocaine-exposed peers.

    How could they tell the difference?

  4. Oh yeah, I remember the Crack Babies?. They should be adults by now, shouldn’t they? So what have they been up to, anyway? Interns at Lehman Brothers? Analysts at Merrill Lynch? Second Assistant Deputy Press Secretaries in the Obama Administration?

  5. Dennis: Hi, um, I’m a recovering crackhead. This is my retarded sister that I take care of. I’d like some welfare, please.

    Caseworker: We’re gonna need a physician’s report to confirm your sister’s mental illness and your blood work to confirm your…crack addiction.

    Dennis: Well, can’t you see how retarded she is?

  6. But every one of us got to call some idiot “crackbaby” at least once since the scare was invented, so it was worth it.

  7. FWIW, I think it is a bit of a reach to say that cocaine’s effects are as bad as tobacco in the long run.

    From what I’ve read, the jury is still out on Meth as a teratogen, but it seems to have more of an impact than crack.

    None compare to alcohol…the single largest preventable cause of mental retardation and developmental disabilities.

  8. That first sentence was ambiguous.

    To clarify…smoking tobacco while pregnant creates a bigger risk of long term complications for the baby than smoking crack.

  9. If LONEWACKO and Lefiti aren’t crackbabies . . . I don’t know how to make sense of their posts.

  10. Crack, Baby, Crack!

  11. LoneWhackOff and Lefiti…separated at birth?

    One became a psychotic rightwing xenophope.

    The other became a psychotic, whiny, leftwing troll.

    I can see a movie in this.

  12. Lefiti and I aren’t twins. Look how bright and intellegent I am compared to Lefiti.

  13. I hate you guys I’m not a retard ur al retards and yur irrelevant thats why I spend my time thinking about how much I hat you gies!

  14. I see everyone here is having fun claiming I was a crack baby, when obviously they should be focusing on the illegal immigrant menace to our nation’s securiy.

  15. I was waiting for the “just kidding” after the first sentence.

  16. What . . . the . . . fuck? What have I started?

  17. I think there are possibly some cognitive or behavioral explanations for things like this. Humans make emotional judgements based on social norms rather than detached utilitarian assessments. It’s very difficult to challange social norms, because they are, by nature, resistent to violation.

    The mechanism that makes something a social norm is that it is used for social status signalling and violators are punished with social exclusion. So it’s very very hard for someone to speak out against one, and not expect near universal disagreement from the society at large, combined with possible social consequence for doing so.

    Libertarians, I think, should understand this intuitively, since it’s basically what is driving the whole “profits are bad!” notion.

    Same thing goes on with homosexuality on the right, and with drugs. There are some people for whom “Drugs are bad!” is unquestionable.

    Many people don’t think rationally about these issues not even because they have internalized it exactly, but because they’ve internalize the fear of being kicked out of their social group for questioning their groups mores.

    1. nail on the head! that is exactly what this is all about! stigma does more harm than anything to a kid…its about what the kid grows up believing about themselves and what they can do. if they’re expected to be functioning as adults-they indeed will strive to be that. if they are expected to be a loser or a drop out or end up in prison, then it is up to them to make your dream come true!

  18. not a policy I’m recommending

    Why not Jacob? Wouldn’t it be so easy to do so? How sinuously satisfying it would be to flex just a little power. And no reason to stop there, is there?

    Unlimited knowledge, unlimited power.

    When you tire of this mortal sphere, all you have to say is “tarry, thou art so fair”.

  19. it finds kids very much like their non-cocaine-exposed peers

    Uneducated addled retards.

    I keed! I keed!

  20. Hazel,

    One factor that hasn’t been mentioned here is the specifics of the scientific findings related to prenatal cocaine exposure.

    One source of the prediction that prenatal cocaine exposure would create long-term problems for children is that cocaine DOES cause short term, transient difficulties with infants. Prenatal cocaine exposure leads to a child that has difficulty with self-soothing, readily identifiable problems with motor development…etc.

    What was not expected was the degree to which these babies recover from these initial difficulties and end up looking fine.

    So, while the mechanism your are talking about play into the “crack baby” scare, there is more than just a “drugs is bad” explanation.

    Real effects in real babies made people worry about what those babies would be like when they were adults. In the midst of the crack epidemic that swept through some communities, there were a lot of these babies to add urgency to the question.

    Turns out the worry was not justified.

  21. The politically correct term has always been “freebase baby.”

  22. Wait a second. A woman can legally have an abortion, but can get extra penalties for being pregnant while smoking crack!? If that’s true, then politicians prefer having a dead baby to having a baby that consumes greater than average health care and educational resources.

  23. If that’s true, then politicians prefer having a dead baby to having a baby that consumes greater than average health care and educational resources.

    And for once they prefer the cheaper alternative!

    1. then this is obviously a question of morales rather then health issues. bc i mean seriously a dead baby over one that can possibly be the feature leaders of our country or the finders to the cure of cancer or sumthing of the sort. cheezze wut has society or at least politics wut has it cum 2

      dead babies over crack babies!!!!
      way to set the example

  24. Jtuf and Zoltan have the only posts that make sense in this thread.

  25. Neu Mejican:
    True, but there’s a lot of confirmation bias going on, obviously. The pieces of information that support “crack baby” scares remain highly circulated, while those downplaying the scare get filtered out. And that has more to do with “Druds are Bad!” morality than the evidence.

    In most situations there’s always evidence available to support either side, but it gets cherry-picked to reinforce pre-existing norms, so you can’t really claim it’s the driving factor in establishing those norms.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there was evidence around at the time that crack-babies didn’t grow up permanently damaged, but it just got ignored in the popular media.

  26. Hazel,

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there was evidence around at the time that crack-babies didn’t grow up permanently damaged, but it just got ignored in the popular media.

    Nope. The issue was not studied for the most part until the incidence of “crack babies” was significant enough to raise concerns. Even alcohol has only recently been studied well enough to get a sense of how much damage it causes (perhaps 1% of all children have an identifiable disability as a result of alcohol exposure, based on best estimates…the 10% or so of those that have full-blown Fetal Alcohol Syndrome create a 5 billion dollar a year burden in the US alone).

    I don’t disagree with your general point, but there is an empirical reality that drives fears, in most cases. From a public health perspective there are as many problems that get less attention than they should because they don’t have a simple framing to hang your fear on as there are problems that get overblown because they have a moral frame that can be used to amplify the concern.


  27. I just found out my dad smokes crack and i just recently have discovered i might have some kind of mental disorder, although i do fine academically, i think him smoking crack when i was conceived might have something to do with the disorder. I have not yet spoke to my father about this and am kind of hoping it does so i can make him feel like the piece of shit that he is, so if theres anyone who thinks im right i need your backup

    and i bet anyone who thinks kids dont have effects from smoking crack, is probably a mother or father who smoked crack DRUGS FUCK PEOPLE UP and if it was that recent of a science then i bet in another twenty years they will be saying the crack baby myth is true

  28. if anyone reads the above comment please email me info too

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