"But was the panic based on science?" you may be asking. The answer is ... uh, sort of. Specifically, the scare was based on a study of 23 infants who had been exposed to crack. We didn't forget several zeroes there -- the study had fewer participants than a pick-up basketball league. Oh, and it only studied them as babies, which meant there was no information on what kind of adults they would grow up to be. Sure enough, subsequent studies on adults who had been exposed to crack in the womb showed only minor neurological problems, if there were any at all.
But the damage was done. Women who do drugs during pregnancy were, and still are, punished far more harshly than women who smoke or drink, and get hit with criminal charges or have their children taken, instead of, you know, being helped. Meanwhile, politicians and government officials peddled the myth that crack babies were an expensive drain on society, costing as much as a million dollars each to raise to adulthood.
And yes, the fact that crack was supposedly the scary new drug of choice for poor African Americans absolutely fueled the "crisis." The Atlantic dug up an old newspaper article called "Disaster In Making: Crack Babies Start To Grow Up," which argued that a wave of Mad-Maxian criminal youth was on the horizon. The panic was a big part of how we got the equally overblown fear of "super predators," roving gangs of primarily black teenagers who would commit crimes, but like, really well. Luckily, the media seems to have learned its lesson and is treating the current opioid crisis, which happens to be hitting white Americans the hardest, with much more sensitivity.