In the 1980s, images of tiny, jittery “crack babies” caused social outcry – crack-addicted pregnant mothers were prosecuted and the media warned that a generation of “crack babies” would plague our country. Turns out… they were wrong.

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The Crack Baby Scare: From Faulty Science to Media Panic

Producer: Kit R. Roane
Editor: Bret Sigler

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.

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?

In this Retro Report we 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 medical study that first raised the alarm, through the drumbeat of media coverage that kept the story alive, to, decades later, when a cocaine-exposed research subject told us her own surprising life story.

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