A Hand and a Home for Pregnant Addicts

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A Hand and a Home for Pregnant Addicts

Crack Cocaine Impacts Society

Magazine article

By: Dennis Wyss

Date: 1989

Source: Dennis, Wyss. "Mandela House: A Hand and a Home for Pregnant Addicts." Time 133 (February 27, 1989).

About the Author: Dennis Wyss worked as a staff writer for Time magazine.


Crack cocaine emerged rapidly in the mid-1980s, becoming a major national concern within a year. Crack offered a new way to deliver cocaine to the system by smoking it instead of snorting or injecting it. The crack epidemic was unusual and disturbing in that it occurred during a long-term downward trend in overall drug use in the United States. Crack use was centered in the nation's urban areas among African Americans, and it was associated to an unusual degree with violent crime.

The first reported use of crack cocaine was in the Bahamas in 1983. By 1985, it was readily available on the streets of New York City and spreading to other parts of the United States. As it reached each community, its rapid and intense high and its addictive capacity instantly marked crack as a very dangerous drug.

The hallmark of crack cocaine, perhaps more than any other drug, is its ability to induce persistent, intensive drug-seeking behaviors. A drug absorbed through the lungs after smoking quickly reaches the brain, rapidly producing the sought-after high. Cocaine taken through the nose attains a peak high in ten to fifteen minutes and lasts about an hour, while cocaine injected into the blood peaks in three to five minutes and lasts thirty to forty-five minutes. In sharp contrast, a crack cocaine high is achieved in ten to fifteen seconds and lasts about fifteen minutes. Crack users typically smoke repeated doses or "hits" of the drug to extend the high, sometimes for many hours.

The reinforcing properties of cocaine are enormous. The drug user experiences a powerful craving that leads him or her to abandon all else in a compulsion to obtain more of the drug. Heavy crack users often forego food and sleep to stay high. They frequently suffer malnutrition and exhaustion as a result of such behavior.

Crack affects the user's personal relationships and responsibilities in a range of ways. Long-time psychological effects of crack use include behavior and personality changes such as impulsive, often violent behavior and paranoia. Medical effects of crack use include chronic respiratory problems (usually a persistent cough), chronic fatigue, and insomnia. The overall result of crack use is a rise in crime and violence and, usually, the collapse of the user's family relationships. The article, "Mandela House: A Hand and a Home for Pregnant Addicts," discusses the relationship between crack-addicted mothers and their babies, and one project that offered help in Oakland, California.


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By the 1990s, the media was filled with images of crack houses, crack babies, and the black crack user. A largely urban drug, crack seemed to be something that would remain safely away from largely white, suburban areas, but would cause enormous damage to the inner-city African American communities. The impact of crack has since shifted.

It is now possible to find crack anywhere in the United States. It is no longer an urban problem. Seeing an opportunity for new customers and more money, crack dealers moved to the suburbs, bringing crime and social disruption with them.

The most disturbing casualties of the crack trade are the crack babies. In the 1980s and 1990s, the crack baby epidemic was highlighted through pictures of tiny newborns who were believed to have lifelong health problems. Health and education activists feared a new generation of urban tragedies. However, unlike fetal alcohol syndrome, which has physical effects that interfere with a child's development, the symptoms associated with crack-exposed babies appear to be connected to their environment. Crack addicts simply do not devote much attention to their babies and tend to abandon the children to relatives and other caregivers while pursuing the next hit. Such neglect often leaves children with language and interpersonal difficulties; often these difficulties can be remedied.

The history of drug abuse indicated that as the use of crack cocaine diminished over time it was likely to be replaced with another potent drug. In the 1990s, crack was replaced by methamphetamine as the new, "in" drug. Now considered the greatest drug problem in the United States, "meth" is much like crack in that it is highly addictive and is typically smoked. However, it is far easier to obtain, since it can be made from inexpensive, over-the-counter ingredients.



Cooper, Edith Fairman. The Emergence of Crack Cocaine Abuse. New York: Novinka Books, 2002.

Erickson, Patricia, et al. The Steel Drug: Cocaine and Crack in Perspective. New York: Lexington Books, 1994.

Williams, Terry. Crackhouse: Notes from the End of the Line. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1992.