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Praising program for CRACKing down on addicts' unwanted pregnancies

THERE are thousands of them. They live in government-supported institutions, without caring guardians, each day growing more mentally detached or medically unstable. This is the plight of drug-addicted children, many of whom are born to severely impoverished mothers with drug habits of their own. These children, who often do not survive the first few months of life, are left to face a multitude of health problems in the hopes that they will be adopted by a family that has the means to love and care for them.

The Orange County, Calif. based group Children Requiring A Caring Kommunity (CRACK) is doing something to curb the number of drug-addicted pregnancies and births that occur in our nation's cities every day. The group is offering drug addicts $200 in exchange for getting on a form of long-term birth control. These include the Norplant contraceptive, which is inserted under the skin and is effective for several years; Depo-Provera shots, which must be repeated every three months; an intrauterine device (IUD), which works indefinitely; and tubal ligation, a permanent surgical procedure.

CRACK's campaign, which is aimed at drug addicts living in major cities, has been met with much criticism, but it is a needed step in the fight to curb unwanted pregnancies among women who are addicted to drugs. Treatment and jail are not always effective incentives to get off drugs and get on birth control. The money that CRACK is offering will entice women who would otherwise not use birth control, and will help to halt repeat unwanted pregnancies among women that have the potential to produce unwanted, drug-addicted infants.

Critics of CRACK contend that this program targets poor minority women and coerces them into doing something that potentially could be dangerous. The statistics, though, paint a frightening picture of health risks to mother and child. The 236 women who have taken the reward in exchange for birth control told CRACK that before using birth control they had a total of 1,501 pregnancies -- an average of more than six each. Of those pregnancies, 527 resulted in abortion, and of the 966 pregnancies that went to term, 117 babies were still born and 39 died in the hospital after delivery. Among the 810 children who survived, 537 are in foster care.

Repeated abortions and lack of prenatal care during pregnancy increase the risk of health complications of the mother, but the real victims are the children who survive to live in foster homes or become unwanted wards of the state.

According to CRACK, many children of drug addicts wind up in foster care or must deal with health, developmental and emotional problems at taxpayer expense. By getting drug addicted women on long-term birth control, they will no longer subject innocent children to a life of hardship and pain because they were born addicted to drugs, and because their mothers are not mentally, physically or financially prepared to take care of them.

Like any program that targets drug users in large American cities, certain minorities have the potential to constitute a majority within these programs. But when looking at the numbers of those who have received the $200 reward, there is an almost even split (101 whites to 102 blacks) in the racial breakdown.

In addition, most of CRACK's board of directors is black, and Barbara Harris -- the group's founder and director -- is married to a black man and has six interracial biological and four black adopted children. "People always want to yell racism, but I can take the heat. We don't target race, but a behavior. This is common sense. It's about preventing pregnancy. I've heard from so many African-American people who say, 'We don't want our babies born that way,'" said Harris in an interview with The Washington Post.

Drug-addicted women many times do not have the resolve to stay in treatment facilities in order to kick their habits and care for their children. One Compton, Calif. woman who took the reward from CRACK after getting Norplant in 1998 said that she had been in and out of 13 substance abuse programs, and that not even the thought of the state taking her children away was incentive enough to get clean. "Cash is one of the only things that can cut through the fog and motivate an addict to get contraceptives," she told the Post.

Drug addicts need help -- they need to be treated so they can live their lives without the false sense of security that drugs give them.

Unfortunately, getting them the help they need is easier said than done. But while they fall deeper and deeper into their dangerous habits, drug addicts are bringing children into the world, addicted to the same drugs they are. These children die as infants or struggle as children in an unfit environment.

CRACK's mission is not unethical or inhumane to women. But continuing to allow innocent children to be brought into the world of drug addiction and poverty is.

(Erin Perucci is a Cavalier Daily columnist.)

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