Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of America's First Prison for Drug Addicts

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From 1935 until 1975, just about every junkie busted for dope went to the Narcotic Farm. Equal parts federal prison, treatment center, farm, and research laboratory, the Farm was designed to rehabilitate addicts and help researchers discover a cure for drug addiction. Although it began as a bold and ambitious public works project, and became famous as a rehabilitation center frequented by great jazz musicians among others, the Farm was shut down forty years after it opened amid scandal over its drug-testing program, which involved experiments where inmates were being used as human guinea pigs and rewarded with heroin and cocaine for their efforts.

Published to coincide with a documentary to be aired on PBS, The Narcotic Farm includes rare and unpublished photographs, film stills, newspaper and magazine clippings, government documents, as well as interviews, writings, and anecdotes from the prisoners, doctors, and guards that trace the Farm’s noble rise and tumultuous fall, revealing the compelling story of what really happened inside the prison walls.

The Narcotic Farm is a beautiful, fascinating book that takes readers deep into a forgotten American institution. The pictures are remarkable and the story brings an important moment in history vividly to life. It’s a stunning work.
Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps
The story of America’s long and deep affair with addictive drugs is incomplete without mention of the legendary federal narcotic hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. The Narcotic Farm tells this story well, and in addition provides a wealth of revealing photographs and documents that speak volumes on what it was like to be a junkie in the mid-twentieth century.
Luc Sante, author of Low Life and Evidence
The Narcotic Farm
works its magic by recapturing, in images and words, the lost world of “Narco,” the sprawling federal prison-hospital for drug addicts in Lexington, Kentucky. It’s the details that get you, from the disheveled misery of withdrawal to the uninhibited joy of performing in the house jazz band.
David Courtwright, author of Dark Paradise, Addicts Who Survived, and Forces of Habit

Everyone who cares about addiction and recovery in this country should look at these pictures and read this text.
Susan Cheever, author of My Name is Bill Wilson: His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous and Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction

“The 'Narco,' with its combination of prison and hospital, drug experimentation and drug cure, total institution and farm, exemplified the contradictions of American drug policy.  The authors are to be commended for their accessible text and high-quality images that vividly convey the history of the Narcotics Farm from the high hopes of its birth to its evolution into a "fraternity for drug addicts."–Eric Schneider - "Smack: Heroin and the American City," University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810972865
  • Publisher: Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/28/2008
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 451,749
  • Product dimensions: 7.80 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Nancy D. Campbell, associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, writes about drug policy, science, and culture. She lives in upstate New York. JP Olsen is a filmmaker whose work has appeared on PBS, ABC, CBS, A&E, and The Discovery Channel. Luke Walden is a documentary film cameraman and editor whose most recent credits include a film about UN peacekeeping in war-torn countries. Olsen and Walden live in New York.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 10

1 A New Deal for the Drug Addict 34

2 Competent and Humane 50

3 The Two Roads to Narco 60

4 The Lexington Cure 72

5 The Fantastic Lodge 86

6 The Talking Cure 100

7 Down on the Farm 116

8 Work is Therapy 128

9 At Play in the Fields of Narco 140

10 The Greatest Band You Never Heard 150

11 The Addiction Research Center 162

12 The Revolving Door 188

13 Bibliography 194

14 Index and Credits 198

15 Acknowledgments 204

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 9, 2009


    Primarily a picture book but contains much interesting information about the establishment and operation of this Public Health Service Hospital. Stirred many memories of the four years I spent living and working there while a student at the University of Kentucky in the 60's.

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