The construction of the crack babies phenomenon as a social problem

Am J Orthopsychiatry. 1998 Apr;68(2):313-20. doi: 10.1037/h0080340.


Early negative findings on cocaine-exposed newborns engendered widespread media and public perceptions of a causal link between poor mothers' substance use and serious problems in their offspring. Despite later research questioning the prevalence of the problems and implicating other environmental and economic factors, these mothers were stigmatized and criminalized, and their children precipitously removed from their care. This paper reviews the process by which this came about and urges a more balanced and complex view of the problem.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / prevention & control
  • Crack Cocaine / adverse effects*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data
  • Pregnancy
  • Public Opinion
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Problems / prevention & control
  • Social Problems / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States


  • Crack Cocaine