Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pregnant women and drugs: Another relapse at The New York Times

            First came the hype and hysteria over pregnant women using crack cocaine.  It led to dire predictions about a doomed generation.  And some were, in fact, doomed – not by the drugs used by their mothers, but by their mass confiscation and consignment to the chaos of foster care.
            Indeed, while study after study found no or minimal effects on infants from their mothers’ prenatal cocaine use, another study found that when children born with cocaine in their systems were taken from their mothers, they fared far worse than children left with mothers able to care for them.  It turns out that, when it comes to what harms a newborn, cocaine isn’t nearly as toxic as foster care.

            The myths about so-called “crack babies” have been so thoroughly debunked that it is among “the greatest misreported stories in American journalism,” according to scholar W. Joseph Campbell, whose excellent book, Getting it Wrong, (University of California Press: 2010) dissects ten such myths. (For example, it turns out William Randolph Hearst didn’t start the Spanish-American War after all.)

            But  exposure of the myths about crack didn’t stop newspapers like The New York Times from making exactly the same mistakes concerning methamphetamine.

            And now – oops, they’ve done it again. This time the hype and hysteria infuse a story that ran on Sunday about abuse of prescription painkillers by pregnant women.  While not as bad as the meth and crack coverage, it was bad enough.  The failings in the Times story are superbly dissected by Lynn Paltrow, executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women on her Blog at RH Reality Check so I won’t repeat the analysis here.

            Perhaps one should be forgiving.  After all, American media seem addicted to blaming pregnant women, and rushing to embrace proposals to confiscate their children, whenever a new alleged “drug plague” catches their eye; and we all know that relapse is a part of recovery.

            Om the other hand, I haven’t seen any indication that many reporters are seeking treatment for their addiction.  Perhaps Arthur S. Brisbane, the current “Public Editor” at the Times, could do an intervention.