CRACK Comes to New York

Group Pays Addicts for Sterilization

The other five kids, while doing well, she says, are battling more commonplace conditions like hyperactivity and dyslexia. This, then, touches at the core of the issue—the fact that it is impossible to predict how seriously a child is likely to be affected by a parent's drug use.

If science irrevocably concluded that drugs single-handedly create miserable complications in drug-exposed children, CRACK might have a more acceptable case. But the truth is that researchers now recognize addiction as a multi-layered malady with many factors, such as environment and nutrition, influencing it. Admittedly, one NIDA study released this April found that children exposed to cocaine before birth are twice as likely to have delayed mental development by the age of two. However, this study was the only one of 10 large-scale studies to show such a negative effect, researchers wrote in a critical response to the NIDA findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association. What's more, researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine reported this week that trained research assistants who are unaware of a child's history cannot tell the difference between a four-year-old who was exposed to cocaine before birth and one who was not exposed. Perpetuating the myth of "crack babyism" is plain "anti-public health," says Deborah Frank, a medical professor at Boston University and co-author of the new study.

The "propaganda" promoting CRACK's mission is what Lynn Paltrow is most worried about. Paltrow, the group's most outspoken opponent and the executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, feels that Harris's intentions may be noble, but the tremendous media attention she attracts necessitates a higher level of moral responsibility. "What scares me is that [CRACK] is presenting inaccurate arguments, misleading people to believe that we can easily solve complex sociopolitical problems. This feeds into so many pre-existing prejudices in America," says Paltrow. Also, the program seems like a campaign to stigmatize drug users, says Harry Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College and co-editor of Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice. "These are a bunch of right-wing warriors stigmatizing 'bad' women!" says Levine, and with a "crummy bribe" to boot. Given that CRACK's outreach is bringing a clientele that is largely people of color, there is of course another kind of associative stereotyping linking addicts and race.

Though Harris has raised thousands from right-wing donors, politics seem far from her mind—but so do ethics, a long history of racial prejudice, and what it means to promote inaccurate stereotypes. She feels she is protecting the rights of unborn children, but in her single-minded and rather simplistic war against pregnant drug addicts, Harris has forgotten that it is far too easy to blame individuals rather than the conditions that thwart them.

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