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4 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Crack, America's Most Vilified Drug

When it comes to crack, racism leads to rampant misinformation.

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Now, the disparity has been reduced to a still large 18:1 weight ratio. 

3. Crack babies. Recent research has found that claims suggesting crack-exposed infants would grow up with severe mental or physical deficiencies were exaggerated and misinformed. Amid a surge in crack cocaine's popularity and the doom-and-gloom media frenzy surrounding it, a 1989 study in Philadelphia found that the mothers of nearly 1 in 6 babies born in Philly hospitals tested positive for cocaine. Crack paranoia led to wildly exaggerated claims about "crack babies" (and villainized black mothers as "crack whores"), including a social worker's televised prediction that crack-exposed infants would not reach an IQ past 50.

Amid the hype, in 1989, Hallam Hurt, then chair of neonatology at Albert Einstein Medical Center and now a pediatrics professor the University of Pennsylvania, began a nearly 25-year study on the effects of in-utero cocaine exposure on 224 babies born at Einstein between 1989 and 1992. Half were exposed in-utero; half were not. All of them, however, came from low-income families, and almost as many were black. 

"We went looking for the effects of cocaine," Hurt told the Philadelphia Inquirer, but the two groups performed the same on development and intelligence tests. They were both, however, underperforming compared to the norm. "We began to ask, was there something else going on?"

As the Inquirer reported, "they found that 81 percent of the children had seen someone arrested; 74 percent had heard gunshots; 35 percent had seen someone get shot; and 19 percent had seen a dead body outside—and the kids were only 7 years old at the time. Those children who reported a high exposure to violence were likelier to show signs of depression and anxiety and to have lower self-esteem."

"Poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine," Hurt told the Inquirer .

Still, she was not the first to draw such a conclusion. Doctors cannot tell the difference between crack-exposed and poverty-exposed infants. And among other studies, a 2001 comprehensive review of the effects of in-utero exposure determined: “[T]here is no convincing evidence that prenatal cocaine exposure is associated with any developmental toxicity difference in severity, scope, or kind from the [consequences] of many other risk factors.”

4. Crackheads. Even at the peak of crack's popularity, only between 10 and 20 percent of users became addicted—a rate similar to cocaine and other drugs. Users who do become addicted to crack are more affected by a combination of other factors, like a lack of positive reinforcement, financial stability, and a strong support network.

What's more, crack cocaine is not as unpredictable as some may think. Dr. Hart told AlterNet that claims that using crack for the first time can cause users to become addicted or violent are wildly imaginative. "We have given thousands of doses of crack cocaine in our lab, and we get predictable effects—increased drug dose, increased effects—and nobody has died or become violent."  

As Dr. Hart explains in his book, any violence related to crack cocaine is more closely linked to the drug trade. In 1988 in New York City, for example, only 2 percent of crack-related murders were committed by addicts looking to score.

Crack does not make users sleepless bags of bones, either. "People have this notion in their minds that folks who smoke crack are very skinny, but it's actually a weak appetite suppresant," Dr. Hart told AlterNet, "The kids on Adderall are getting more of an appetite suppressant than cocaine."

Challenging the myth that crack causes users to go days without sleep, Dr. Hart said, "Certainly, when you smoke or take it, initially you'd be alert...But it's one of the best drugs to take and party at night because you can actually go to sleep."

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