By the Editorial Board of the New York Times

Legislative intrusion into the womb has a long history in the United States, and nowhere is this paternalism more forceful than when illegal drugs are part of the equation. If the country’s war on drugs functions as a system of social control, that control is doubly exercised when a fetus is involved.

Today, with some notable exceptions, the nation is reacting to the opioid epidemic by humanizing people with addictions — depicting them not as hopeless junkies, but as people battling substance use disorders — while describing the crisis as a public health emergency. That depth of sympathy for a group of people who are overwhelmingly white was nowhere to be seen during the 1980s and 90s, when a cheap, smokable form of cocaine known as crack was ravaging black communities across the country.

News organizations shoulder much of the blame for the moral panic that cast mothers with crack addictions as irretrievably depraved and the worst enemies of their children. The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Newsweek and others further demonized black women “addicts” by wrongly reporting that they were giving birth to a generation of neurologically damaged children who were less than fully human and who would bankrupt the schools and social service agencies once they came of age.