Why Aren’t We Talking About Smack Babies?

Fallon Davis
Oct 27, 2017 · 5 min read

This October, we’ve been discussing adolescent health and the overall importance of primary care. As our younger years build the foundation for what our health will look like as an adult, it’s essential to preserve our mental health by eliminating any substances that could harm our bodies.

As a society, we naturally support our mothers and their efforts to produce and take care of a healthy child. Without a doubt mothers are known as the protector, provider and nurturer in our infant years. This is why it is imperative for a woman to take care of herself, especially if she chooses to bear children in the future.

However, life as we know gets in the way and so can the bad habits that we hold on to.

Drug abuse has been a long-standing demon in the United States for over 40 years and effectively destroying entire communities. The major drug responsible for several broken families use to be cocaine. Making its presence known over 30 years ago, cocaine changed the topic of conversation in the 1980’s, during the crack baby era.

Why aren’t Heroin Babies labeled future criminals like the 80’s Crack Babies?

In 2017, we now understand how these doctors and media publications opinions irreparably damaged African-American communities.

While today’s problems are reminiscent of the crack baby epidemic, heroin addicted mothers aren’t appearing on the nightly news at the same rate nor are their children being labeled as defective at birth. The negative social ramifications of having a heroin baby is visibly missing in every day conversations.

Like the crack era, the opioid/heroin epidemic continues to soar among pregnant women who use heroin along with prescription drugs such as methadone. Growing at a faster rate than pregnant crack mothers, American states such as Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee are heavily affected by the heroin addicted baby crisis.

According to the Green Bay Press Gazette’s “7 Days of Heroin,” in just one week the numbers were shocking; accumulating over 200 hundred heroin users in jail, 18 deaths, 180 overdoses and 15 babies born with heroin related problems.

A new study by JAMA Psychiatry on heroin use patterns are just as alarming, citing that the number of people that have used heroin have tripled since 2000. So, if the heroin baby epidemic is worse than the crack baby epidemic, then why has society showed empathy for these narcotic addicted mothers? Why have we adopted a soft approach to this issue and referencing NAS (Neonatal abstinence syndrome) babies instead of heroin babies?

In a CNN article, the author discusses a study about the rise of heroin use in primarily white communities. The author mentions that the past 8 years of overdoses from prescription opioids and heroin have quadrupled in white communities, explaining that opioids now accounts for 1 in 4 overdose deaths in the United States.

According to the CDC in 2015, over 50 thousand people died from drug overdoses and 63% percent of those deaths were from opioid use. The use of opioids is so alarming that it has surpassed the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1995 with 43,000 deaths.

How did Americans get this hooked? According to Time magazine, prescription painkiller’s are the “gateway” drug to heroin and contributes to higher rates of heroin use in white Americans. Researchers have found that people who abused prescription painkillers before they started using heroin increased only among Caucasians, from 36% in 2001–2002 to nearly 53% in 2012–2013; notably these numbers don’t include the homeless population.

Let’s control the masses and jail these neglectful heroin mothers, like the crack moms right?

The South already tried the option of incarceration. Deciding to go with the method of jailing drug-dependent mothers like in the 1980’s crack era, Tennessee adopted a law.

However, doctors and civil liberties advocates refused to accept this ruling and wrote to the governor, Bill Haslam, urging him to veto the bill. The state didn’t get much support as citizens thought jailing heroin dependent mothers was inhumane. But, why? This same process was used on thousands of crack mothers and it seemed to work, right? Or did it?

In Tennessee and nationwide in 2015, about 90% of the people that overdosed or died from heroin use were white. Doctors are very careful when addressing the new opioid drug crisis by making it about everyone and deciding not to disclose the severity of the drug affecting white families. As an example, Dr. Daniel Sumrok in Memphis explains in an interview, that his patients are lawyers, teachers, nurses and doctors that have received a ‘bad deal’ and had real lives with real families before becoming opiate dependent.

These same people with real lives and jobs also have real and adequate health insurance — sufficient enough to buy narcotics. Needless to say, doctors also share the responsibility of rising overdose deaths.

As a medical professional, there shouldn’t be any bias when it comes to taking care of our own humanity. Could the only reason be that crack pregnant mothers were vilified in the 80’s was their social-economic status? We all know that not having the means to pay for health insurance can easily trigger more than a few neglectful stares. Perhaps, the reason for less criminalization and more support today for narcotic addicted mothers is their ability to pay for healthcare unlike their inner-city counterparts.

We need treatment, not prison sentences.

Let’s not criminalize these women. Let’s not criminalize addicts period.

Like the saying goes, “If you know better, you can do better,” citizens along with the media should confront the opioid crisis head and bring significant noise to the crisis so it can be heard loud and clear.

Referring to children addicted to heroin as a NAS child doesn’t instill fear and concern, or raises attention to the issue. When the term “Crack Baby” hit the airwaves, pregnant women on cocaine was all anyone could talk about for several years. Therefore, if society adopted calling the neonatal abstinence syndrome children “Heroin Babies,” then maybe we could get the public to realize how serious this crisis really is.

Drug abuse is a disease and will always affect families if we don’t address the need for proper rehabilitation. Hopefully, things will change and society will continue to stay informed and not turn their backs on heroin mothers like they did to African-American crack mothers of the 80’s. We know now that incarcerating mothers doesn’t work and instead causes other long-term problems by breaking up the family unit.

All adolescents need the stability that healthy parents can provide to build a brighter future for us. For a detailed view of heroin statistics for all races ranging from 1999 to 2017, you can visit KFF.org.

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