When the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that prenatal cocaine exposure could cause behavioral and learning problems, a media maelstrom over "crack babies" ensued. A former director of the National Center on Child Abuse called them the "bio-underclass." In 1989, columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote, "Theirs will be a life of certain suffering, of probably deviance, of permanent inferiority."
As it turns out, a slew of more rigorous studies have found no scientific basis for such claims. There is evidence that cocaine use increases the chance of spontaneous miscarriage or a low-birth-weight baby. But any later deficits were caused not by crack but by lack of prenatal care, poverty, and malnutrition. Doctors argue that the stigma of being a crack baby does more damage than the crack exposure.
Now a new specter is arising: the "meth baby." This time, doctors seem to have learned a lesson. A group of 96 physicians have circulated a statement proclaiming, "The use of stigmatizing terms, such as "ice babies" and "meth babies," lacks scientific validity and should not be used."