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Helping the Children of Crack : L.A. supervisors will improve addicted-baby unit at Martin Luther King

Very little in life is so profoundly unfair as the birth of an innocent baby dragged kicking and screaming into the brave, new and excruciatingly painful world of crack addiction. This is an inheritance as thoroughly unjust as it is debilitating.

In addition to all the obstacles that life normally throws at its new entrants--and many crack babies today are also born into poverty--these tiny victims must wrestle with what has become the Frankenstein monster of the Drug Age.

It is far more than anyone should have to endure.

Like all other major American cities, Los Angeles is increasingly home of the crack baby. More and more women--addicted, mothering out of wedlock and often with little more than a dime to their names--throw themselves on the mercy of the local social services system.

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That system, overburdened and struggling, copes with this tragic neonatal trend as best it can--and sometimes not very well.

Tuesday, however, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors took a step that, however small, will bring some measure of comfort to babies who are saddled with this psychotropic handicap.

The board approved the addition of 15 beds to the neonatal intensive-care unit at the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center. Avoiding the private-contracting route, the board structured the deal so that the addition can be built by county-employed carpenters--on a “fast-track basis,” as Supervisor Kenneth Hahn put it. All of the funding is within the current county budget.

The effort comes not a moment too soon. “Martin Luther King is just bulging with babies who need this care,” said Hahn deputy Carmen Perez. “There are crack babies, AIDS babies, all kinds of babies.”

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That daunting problem is replicated throughout much of drug-soaked urban America. Thus it is only a slight comfort that on Tuesday Los Angeles, employing a measure of imagination and evidencing special urgency, moved to do something for infants whose only error in life was having the enormous misfortune to be born to a crack addict.


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