Drug Addicts Paid To Get Birth Control

Two hundred dollars in exchange for their reproductive rights -- that's what an organization called C.R.A.C.K. (Children Requiring A Caring Kommunity) is offering drug addicts in a controversial deal offered in a variety of cities nationwide.

Melanie Folstad, who heads up the Washington chapter, spoke to CBS News Early Show Anchor Bryant Gumbel about how the program works and who qualifies for the $200. She is the adoptive mother of three children who were born to drug addicts.

"Somebody will give us a call. If they are interested in participating in long-term birth control and acknowledge they have a problem, we'll provide them with a reward for participating in a birth control program," said Folstad.

C.R.A.C.K. doesn't provide a doctor or birth control.

"The process of choosing the birth control and the counseling is something we aren't involved in," says Folstad. "We encourage them to get an outside party and somebody who is qualified to provide them with that information, and guide them through that process."

"We think of it as a reward or incentive for making a responsible choice."

A report by Columbia University's Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse estimates that each year in the U.S. some 500,000 babies are born who have been prenatally exposed to illicit drugs. Many suffer from neurological damage. Even those who emerge physically unscathed face a future in the foster care system overflowing with children taken from drug addicted-parents.

The program is controversial. Some people say there are ethical problems with women making this choice while their judgment is impaired by their drug habit.

Folstad counters that the women they've worked with don't feel that their judgment is clouded when they make a choice for birth control.

"They are well aware of what they are doing. It's not something that happens immediately," Folstad points out. "There is a process involved, there is time that passes."

The program has paid out $200 to 237 crack addicts who had a total of 1500 pregnancies before they began the program. Of the 966 children born, 537 are in foster care.

Folstad says the feedback from the women in the program has been encouraging. For some women it's a turning point, "They started to turn their lives around and make good decisions."

Folstad says C.R.A.C.K. refers the women to drug rehabilitation programs. "We would love for them to start taking those sorts of steps. But that, per se, is not part of the program."

Dr. Larry Siegel of the Washington, D.C. Health Department, doesn't approve of the program.

"Treatment is the answer for drug addiction, not a feel-good program that leads to sterilization of women or men while they are under the influence of drugs," said Dr. Siegel. "After all, addiction is a brain disease. We've known that for the last 20 years, and impaired judgment is part of what happens wit brain diseases. So that the decisions that people make, while under the influence of drugs, are impaired just as they might be if an individual had schizophrenia or a mental illness."

He adds that most kids born addicted to drugs turn out okay.

"While we don't think it's a good idea for individuals to have a pregnancy while under the influence of drugs, we think that sterilization procedures are a far more onerous response to a basic problem of addiction," said Siegel.

Forstad responded that C.R.A.C.K. does not advocate sterilization. "Our program encourages temporary birth control," she said, such as a Norplant contraceptive, which is inserted under the skin and can last five years, or Depro-Provera shots, which must be repeated every three months.