"'Crack Baby' Scare Overblown," trumpeted a typical headline over a news story that moved about a week ago. "The field of prenatal cocaine exposure has advanced significantly since the misleading 'crack baby' scare of the 1980s," declared the article.
Then, the worry was that babies born addicted to cocaine and other drugs because their mothers abused them would be at risk for the rest of their lives. Trouble in school was cited.
Now, two University of Maryland researchers tell us, it was all just one of those dishonest "scare" campaigns against drug abuse.
Tell that to nurses and doctors throughout the country who deal with very real crack babies all the time. Once out of their mothers' wombs - where they get a steady supply of whatever drug mom is hooked on - the infants go through drug withdrawal symptoms. For as much as six weeks, life is hell for the tiny victims. They clearly are in agony.
Think about this: How many cocaine and heroin addicts say they just can't quit? How many insist they can't deal with the pain and sickness that goes with withdrawal? Yet, knowing how bad it is, they're willing to inflict that agony on their babies in order to spare themselves.
So serious is the problem that in some parts of the country, special mini-hospitals are being opened to handle only babies born addicted to drugs. A 30-bed unit is planned for Cabell County. There, a doctor estimates one in 13 newborns comes into the world addicted.
It happens right here in the Northern Panhandle, as state officials know. A study of umbilical cord tissues from delivery rooms throughout West Virginia concluded nearly one in five babies is born after exposure to alcohol (a concern in itself), marijuana and/or opiates.
Here, the study (in 2010), found 8.6 percent of the newborns tested at Wheeling Hospital had problem drugs in their systems.
Babies born to drug addict moms are at greater risk. They tend to be smaller at birth, and the possibilities of premature or still births are greater.
The Maryland researchers pointed out the obvious, that a variety of factors other than pre-natal exposure to drugs may be responsible for the problems many "crack babies" face. For example, children who grow up in homes where mom and dad are addicts frequently don't do well in school. And, they add, children in drug addict homes tend to grow up in poverty, another indicator of problems later in life.
But what's the link in virtually all of the causes for "crack babies" having problems later in life? It's drug abuse, of course.
I don't mean to insinuate the researchers were trying to minimize the problem of drug-addicted babies. Not at all. What they found will help educators, health care professionals and social workers provide better assistance to children in such circumstances.
What's worrisome about the study - or at least the way it was reported-is that some idiots will use it as an excuse to avoid kicking the drug habit before or while they're pregnant.
Make no mistake about it: Women who intentionally get their unborn babies hooked on drugs and/or alcohol are doing a terrible thing. They need to know there is no excuse for it. None.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org