A recent long-term study, reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, on effects of maternal cocaine use during pregnancy has blown the doors off the “Crack baby” theory. The study indicates that poverty, not drug use, is a better predictor of the life outcomes of these children. There were no differences between children who had been exposed to cocaine in the womb when compared to those not exposed to cocaine on a number of developmental, cognitive, executive functioning, and brain functioning measurements. Unfortunately the hysteria that surrounded crack cocaine in the 80’s led to changes in laws, public policy, and drug and alcohol treatment.
The above article discusses some of the hysteria about “Crack Babies” being an epidemic of tremendous proportion. People believed that an entire generation of children would be lagging behind due to the impact of pre-natal cocaine exposure. As this study indicates this has not been the case. The hysteria surrounding crack cocaine is a pattern that is seen time and time again with respect to drugs in our society. There has been a consistent panic and hysteria surrounding drug use and the possible dangers of drug use. This can be seen since the early propaganda movie “Refer Madness” and has grown to the point where we cannot have an honest discussion about marijuana use. Teenagers do not listen to valid warnings about drugs seriously due to the constant exaggeration of the dangers of marijuana. This approach to drugs has led to overreactions in how we as a society respond to drug use and helping those whose lives have been negatively impacted by drug use. I liken this response to dropping a nuclear bomb to kill a bunch of mosquitoes. Can drug cause serious damage to people’s lives and society? Yes. Is the problem so pervasive and problematic that it requires use of drastic measures such as interventions, 90-day inpatient stays, and boot camps? No. Can we implement reasonable and measured interventions that are based on human compassion and science? Yes.
Reducing overreactions and hysteria starts with educating the public about the facts about drug use. There are myths on both sides of an argument. This education starts with treatment providers and researchers. Treatment providers themselves are somewhat responsible for our societies overreaction to the drug problem. The treatment system frequently gives into desperate families with desperate interventions. Reasonable and evidenced-based interventions are often ignored due to fears about the harms of drug use. Unfortunately the public does not always have access to the knowledge of what interventions are effective. Most lay people are not aware that confrontation interventions can be detrimental and harmful and that more compassionate family treatment is available. Most lay peoples do not know that people use for reasons and are only aware of little blurbs about substance abuse in the media and information from shows such as “Intervention.”
It is time for us as a society and for treatment providers to have an honest discussion with their client’s and the public about drugs, addiction, and substance abuse. We need to look at the facts and stay away from hyperbole, hysteria, and oversimplification. Sometimes the problems are not as damaging as we are made to believe and sometimes what will work is counterintuitive. When we begin to talk about the facts and do not jump to conclusions we can better address the problems created by drug use in our society.