The truth now about the big stories then

Crack Babies: A Tale from the Drug Wars

In the 1980s, many government officials, scientists, and journalists warned that the country would be plagued by a generation of “crack babies.” They were wrong.

Easy to transport, highly addictive and sometimes deadly, crack cocaine ripped through the 1980s like a bullet, a headline-maker that seemed to destroy lives at every turn. But the symbol of that destruction was not the tiny crack vials littering the streets or the addicts crouching in corners. The poster child for America’s drug epidemic was a jittery infant whom commentators said was destined to a lifetime of pain and suffering through no fault of its own.

More than basketball superstar Len Bias’s fatal cocaine overdose in 1986 or Nancy Reagan’s pleas to “just say no,” the “crack baby” represented the Pandora’s box that cocaine had become. But how did these tiny infants gain such status and was it justified?

Retro Report has gone back to look at the story of these children from the perspective of those in the eye of the storm — tracing the trajectory from the small 1985 study by Dr. Ira Chasnoff that first raised the alarm, through the drumbeat of media coverage that kept the story alive, to the present where a cocaine-exposed research subject tells her own surprising life story. Looking back, Crack Babies: A Tale from the Drug Wars shows the danger of prediction and the unexpected outcomes that result when closely-held convictions turn out to be wrong.


Related Stories:

New York Times: Revisiting the “Crack Babies” Epidemic That Was Not

Popular Science: How Science Got the “Crack Baby” Epidemic So Wrong

Jason Kottke: The myth of crack babies

CBC Radio: Retro Report project revisits 1980s ‘crack baby’ scare

The Verge: Crack babies: The New York Times chronicles public hysteria over a 1980s ‘crisis’

Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Myth of Crack Babies

Boing Boing: Whatever happened to crack babies?

Jezebel: Good News: 1980s ‘Crack Babies’ Epidemic Was Hugely Overblown

Andrew Sullivan: The Crack Baby Epidemic That Wasn’t

The Week: What “crack babies” can teach our lawmakers


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