The Narcotic Farm

From its opening in 1935, the United States Narcotic Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, epitomized this country’s ambivalence about how to treat addiction. On the one hand, it was a humane hospital set on 1,000 acres of farmland where drug addicts could recover from their habits. On the other hand, it was an imposing federal prison built to incarcerate convicted addicts.

“Narco,” as it was known locally, was a strange anomaly, a coed institution where convicts did time alongside volunteers who’d checked themselves in for treatment. It became the world’s epicenter for drug treatment and addiction research. For forty years it was the gathering place for this country’s growing drug subculture, a rite of passage that initiated famous jazz musicians, drug-abusing MDs, street hustlers, and drugstore cowboys into the new fraternal order of the American junkie.

But what began as a bold and ambitious public works project was shut down in the 1970s amid changes in drug policy and scandal over its drug program, which recruited hundreds of prisoners to volunteer as human guinea pigs for groundbreaking drug experiments and rewarded them with bonus doses of heroin for their efforts.

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.

Buy Book!