Babies born to crack users in the 1980s were written off even before they could talk. In the two decades that have passed since crack dominated drug markets in the U.S., says the Washington Post, these babies have grown into young adults who can tell their stories — and for the most part, they are tales of success. Many of the crack-exposed infants ended up as boarder babies, abandoned at the hospital by parents who couldn’t care for them. Crime rates, predicted to soar when the children came of age, have instead dropped to record lows. Despite decades of research, it can be hard to parse whether children born to crack-addicted mothers have struggled because of early exposure to drugs, troubled upbringings, or simple teenage defiance.
Barry Lester, a psychologist at Brown University who leads the largest federal study of children with prenatal cocaine exposure, said a lot of misinformation surfaced in the 1980s and 1990s, including that these children had suffered severe brain damage. Then came a period in which studies seemed to say the opposite, that there were no effects from early cocaine exposure. “Now what you are seeing is the pendulum is swinging back to the middle, where it belongs,” Lester said. “People are convinced that cocaine doesn’t cause severe damage, but I also think they are beginning to realize that it does have important effects.”