ANOTHER "DRUG BABY" MEDIA SCARE?
By Barry Lester, PhD, Director, Infant Development Center,
Women & Infants Hospital, Providence, RI
Recently (July 27, 2005), Medical News Today (MNT) carried a story with
the alarming title, "Single prenatal dose of meth causes birth defects." Join
Together, a prominent website, published a summary of the story with a similar
headline and opening with the possibly more inflammatory, "Pregnant women
who use methamphetamine even once put their unborn children at risk of birth
defects" (July 29, 2005). These headlines misleadingly imply that the
research involved women when it actually involved mice, and both the
original story and the Join Together summary failed to mention that this
animal research may have little if any bearing on the health outcome of
humans prenatally exposed to methamphetamines. . . .
Animal research has always been critical for understanding human problems. . . .
But there are also limits to applying animal findings to humans.
This is one of the lessons we learned from the hype that surrounded the
media-created "crack baby" of the 1980s. The media was quick to report
early animal studies suggesting that prenatal exposure to cocaine caused serious
and irreversible defects in children. The first round of human studies also
predicted dire consequences. But these studies were preliminary and flawed.
The results of larger, well-controlled studies failed to find any of the serious
defects or malformations shown by the early animal studies or human studies . . . .
Nevertheless, in response to this alarmist reporting, our nation became
very angry with mothers who used cocaine during pregnancy and wanted
them punished for harming their unborn child. Mothers were prosecuted
instead of being offered treatment, and record numbers of children were
removed from their biological mothers overburdening an already overburden
foster-care system. . . .
But what does this kind of animal research tell us about human babies?
That question was addressed in March 2005 by a U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services expert panel reviewing the literature on methamphetamine.
They concluded that this kind of mouse study -- that uses direct injection into the
peritoneum -- is not relevant to humans because pregnant women don't inject
the drugs they are dependent upon into the peritoneum -- the membrane that
surrounds the fetuses they are carrying. . . .