In the 1980s, so-called crack babies became an icon of the havoc wreaked by cocaine and a catalyst for new laws targeting pregnant women, says the Salt Lake Tribune. Hospitals began testing pregnant women for the drug and states started jailing addicted mothers and taking custody of their children. The media warned of the creation of an underclass of exposed infants born with devastating birth defects and permanent brain damage. Medical research has shown the prenatal effects of cocaine to be far less severe than the “crack baby” legend suggests.
Now the myth has resurfaced with the spread of methamphetamine and led to new labels: “meth babies” and “ice babies.” “As a country, we’re on the verge of making the same mistakes with meth as we made with cocaine,” said Brown University researcher Barry Lester. Lester is among 90 doctors and psychologists who recently signed an open letter urging the media to avoid such labels, which they say lack scientific validity and stigmatize children. Granted $6 million by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Lester and others have been studying the development of meth-exposed children from five cities. The study is still young. Lester said so far, “the effects we’re seeing at birth are very similar to effects we saw with cocaine.”