U.S. Narcotics Farm

There is a mysterious place in Lexington, Kentucky known as the Narcotics Farm. It was a prison / (voluntary) drug study center built by the United States Government in 1935. The building is still there, but is now a (boring) federal prison. Regardless, it has a most intriguing history.

According to a press release from Kentucky.gov,

“The facility was authorized by Congress in 1929 as a hospital, a treatment center for addicts who were convicted of Federal offenses, and a research laboratory established to find a cure for drug addiction…Patients at the Lexington hospital underwent a treatment plan, which consisted of drug withdrawal, psychotherapy, athletics, recreation, and work. Each patient was assigned a job in maintenance, food service, laundry, sanitation, or farming.”

Wayne Kramer, of the band MC5, spent time at the facility. He was caught selling drugs to undercover federal agents in 1975, and spent over two years in Lexington.

Kramer narrated and wrote the score for a PBS documentary called The Narcotic Farm (there is also a book by the same name), which premiered in November 2008.

From the website for the film and book,

“‘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.”

A source close to the farm recently shared with me that Buddy Ebsen (Jed Clampett) and Ray Charles, among others, spent time at Narco.


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