The book The Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Prison for Drug Addicts uses a treasure trove of pictures, archival analysis, and insightful narrative to tell the story of “the world’s most famous – and infamous – center for the treatment and study of drug addiction.”
Nancy Campbell sat down with me some months ago to record this video about her work with co-authors JP Olsen and Luke Walden on The Narcotic Farm. I am excited to share it here, as PLoS Blogs is such a relevant place for their work and this interview.
The Narcotic Farm has an excellent website where you can explore more about the farm, the book, and the accompanying documentary that aired on PBS. Here’s a little snippet:
The Narcotic Farm – both the documentary and the book – tells the story of this fascinating institution through rare photographs and film, forgotten press clippings, revealing government documents, and historically significant new interviews with prisoners, doctors, and guards who were there. Through their interviews and a wealth of newly collected archival material, The Narcotic Farm traces this federal institution’s rise and tumultuous fall.
Nancy Campbell is professor in Science and Technology Studies at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Along with The Narcotic Farm, she is author of the 2007 book Discovering Addiction: The Science and Politics of Substance Abuse Research.
The Narcotic Farm also served as the original home for The Addiction Research Center, which created “much of the formative knowledge of drug addiction” in the United States.
Nancy has an excellent 2006 article on this Center and its role in the history of drug addiction research in the United States: “A new deal for the drug addict”: The Addiction Research Center, Lexington, Kentucky.
The Addiction Research Center (ARC) in Lexington, Kentucky, was dedicated to elucidating the basic underlying mechanisms of drug addiction. The ARC was housed on the rural campus of a prison-hospital called “Narco,” one of two “narcotics farms” in Lexington, Kentucky, and Fort Worth, Texas.
For its studies on drug effects, the ARC had access to a pool of drug-experienced human subjects drawn from the ranks of convicted felons. Given their unparalleled access to human subjects, the scientists who worked at the ARC made conceptual contributions still acknowledged today.
Based on archival work as well as dozens of oral history interviews with individuals who began their research careers at Lexington, the article presents an analytic, intellectual history of the early work of Abraham Wikler, whose lifelong pursuit of the underlying mechanisms of opiate addiction led him to hypothesize the role of conditioning in relapse, as an exemplar of the kind of scientific research that depended on closely listening to and observing “post-addicts,” as subject participants were called.
Note: Both photos come from The Narcotic Farm website. You can find a gallery of photos here.
Here is the link to Nancy Campbell’s video on The Narcotic Farm in case you need it.