Does prenatal exposure to crack produce mutant babies, or is reality a bit more complicated?
A PowerPoint presentation begins with quotes about “crack babies,” humans exposed to cocaine during gestation. One quote suggests that crack babies will have IQs around 50, while another laments their permanent inferiority. The facts that follow, however, disprove the myth of crack babies.
The woman responsible for this study is Dr. Hallam Hunt, who recently concluded a quarter-century long study on the effects of crack on human development. Receiving nearly $8 million in federal funding over 25 years, the study has followed 224 children—nearly all African American and of low-income households. (The number has fell to 110 children over the years.) Dr. Hunt found that other factors, most notably poverty and its accompanying problems, have an equal or larger effect on a child’s development than a mother taking crack during pregnancy.
Hunt began to suspect poverty was a more significant factor than crack four years into study. An IQ test of both the exposed and non-exposed group revealed IQs all hovering around 80, a good 10-30 points lower than the age-group average. The effects of poverty grew starker as the children got older:
As the children grew, the researchers did many evaluations to tease out environmental factors that could be affecting their development. On the upside, they found that children being raised in a nurturing home – measured by such factors as caregiver warmth and affection and language stimulation—were doing better than kids in a less nurturing home. On the downside, they found that 81 percent of the children had seen someone arrested; 74 percent had heard gunshots; 35 percent had seen someone get shot; and 19 percent had seen a dead body outside—and the kids were only 7 years old at the time.
This study by no means suggests that crack is harmless; cocaine can indirectly cause premature labor, and crack use suggests an abnormal home environment. Moreover, some research suggests lower cognitive functioning in crack-exposed humans. No difference existed, however, in areas such as behavioral skills (including attention) and drug use. It seems crack occupies a place similar to other harmful substances instead of being some unique mutant baby creator.
Below is an excellent New York Times video on the fallacies and realities of “Crack Babies”:
“‘Crack Baby’ study ends with unexpected but clear result,” Susan FitzGerald, The Philadelphia Inquirer
An avid supporter of Arsenal FC and a recent graduate of Amherst College, Todd Faulkenberry is now a statistic of America’s unemployment rate. When he isn’t curled up in his bed watching a new television drama, you can find Todd feigning productivity at the Barnes & Noble in Spartanburg, South Carolina.