Narcotic Farm

From Scientific American:

From 1935 to 1975, just about everyone busted for drugs in the U.S. was sent to the United States Narcotic Farm outside Lexington, Ky. Equal parts federal prison, treatment center, research laboratory and farm, this controversial institution was designed not only to rehabilitate addicts, but to discover a cure for drug addiction.

…the institution became a premier center for research into drug addiction and treatment, advancing everything from the use of methadone to treat heroin withdrawal to drugs that blocked the action of opiates. Along the way, Narco was frequented by legendary jazz musicians such as Chet Baker and Sonny Rollins, as well as actor Peter Lorre and beat generation writer William S. Burroughs, who recounted his experience in his first novel, Junkie.

The documentary also chronicles how the Farm was shut down when Congress discovered that researchers there were using patients as human guinea pigs in CIA-funded experiments into LSD. Drug research on federal prisoners is now illegal.

Still, the filmmakers note accomplishments at the institution remain milestones in addiction science and treatment. Its most important contribution might be how it transformed the way society views addicts—”as people suffering from a chronic, relapsing disorder that affects public health,” says book co-author Nancy Campbell, an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., who studies the history of drug addiction research.

About the lower image:

The original caption for this photo, which appeared in a 1951 New York World-Telegram & Sun series on the Narcotic Farm, read: “This desperate narcotics addict, caught like his fellows in the revolving door of law enforcement, will probably go back to his habit when he is free.”

Complete slide show here.

Info on the film here.

Info on the book.

UPDATE: The original article has since issued the following correction:

Correction (posted October 25, 2008): When originally posted, this story suggested that a Congressional investigation into the Narcotic Farm had led to its closure. In fact the main reason Narco was closed was that its centralized form of institutional care was supplanted by a national network of local treatment centers. Its closure coincided with the Congressional investigation into LSD research. Scientific American regrets the error.

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One response to “Narcotic Farm

  1. luke

    Please note that Scientific American online has corrected the main text of this article and also the caption for its photo number 12.Please recopy and paste the new text for factual accuracy.Thank you for your interest in this story.Author, Narcotic Farm