A study has found that 6% of young children treated at a Detroit hospital had cocaine in their systems, fueling concern that secondhand drug smoke harms infants, officials say.
Dr. Norman Rosenberg, chief of emergency medical services at Children's Hospital of Michigan, said his findings may be the first effort to determine the rate of children's exposure to smoke from crack, the highly addictive, smokable form of cocaine.
"Nothing official has ever been published," he said. "Everyone I have talked to says it (evidence of exposure) is extraordinarily high."
Since October, 1989, evidence of cocaine exposure has been found in the urine of about 6% of 360 children treated in the hospital's emergency room. An additional 120 samples have yet to be analyzed.
The study includes children from 1 month to 5 years old who were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening ailments. None had been breast-fed, and any cocaine from exposure in the womb would have dissipated from their blood by the time they were 1 month old.
Rosenberg said youngsters who tested positive had to have been exposed to crack smoke within three days because cocaine passes through the body within 72 hours.
Children were excluded from the study if they had symptoms such as seizures, hypertension and rapid pulse, which suggest they may have eaten the drug, Rosenberg said.
Elizabeth Rahdert, a research psychologist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said Rosenberg's results seem clinically significant. She said the finding is especially disturbing because crack addicts may be less likely than others to seek medical care for their children.