(San Francisco)—From its opening in 1935, the United States Narcotic Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, epitomized the nation’s ambivalence about how to deal with drug addiction. On one hand, it functioned as a compassionate and humane hospital, an “asylum on the hill” on 1,000 acres of farmland where addicts could recover from their drug habits. On the other hand, it was an imposing federal prison built for the incarceration of drug addicts.
“Narco,” as it was known locally, was a strange anomaly, a co-ed institution where federal convicts did time alongside volunteers who checked themselves in for rehabilitation. Not long after its opening, the institution became the world’s epicenter for drug treatment and addiction research, and 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 doctors, street hustlers, and drugstore cowboys into the new fraternal order of the American junkie.
Although it began as a bold and ambitious public works project, Narco was shut down in the 1970s amid changes in drug policy and scandal over its drug-testing program, where hundreds of federal convicts volunteered as human guinea pigs for pioneering drug experiments and were rewarded with heroin and cocaine for their efforts.
THE NARCOTIC FARM tells the compelling story of the institution’s noble rise and tumultuous fall, and includes rare and unpublished photographs, film stills, newspaper and magazine clippings and government documents, as well as anecdotes and recollections from the prisoners, doctors and staff who lived and worked there. A companion book entitled The Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Prison for Drug Addicts has been published by Abrams. Written by authors and filmmakers JP Olsen and Luke Walden, with drug policy expert Nancy Campbell, the book chronicles the tumultuous years of this controversial institution with interviews, film stills, press clippings and rare and unpublished photographs and documents.
The film will premiere on Public Television across the country in November 2008. For more information and to check local listings, visit www.itvs.org. THE NARCOTIC FARM is a co-production of JP Olsen and Luke Walden and the Independent Television Service, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
About the Subjects
Dr. John Ball was staff criminologist with the Addiction Research Center between the years of 1962 to 1968. After leaving Lexington, Ball went on to work for the Nixon White House’s “Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention.”
Dr. Nancy Campbell is an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. She is the author of two books on addiction: Using Women: Gender, Drug Policy and Social Justice and two books on the Narcotic Farm, Discovering Addiction: The Science and Politics of Substance Abuse Research and is co-author of The Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Prison for Drug Addicts.
Dr. David Deitch was arrested at the age of 17 for heroin use and sent to the Narcotic Farm. Following a long recovery from drug addiction he would go on to co-found the drug treatment center, Daytop Village. Today he is a Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.
Dr. Robert DuPont, a psychiatrist, was the drug czar under President Ford and is the former head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. DuPont is widely credited as one of the first government figures to endorse methadone maintenance as a viable treatment for heroin addiction.
Edward Flowers is a former heroin addict who grew up in the South Bronx and in an orphanage in upstate New York. After nearly a decade in and out of prisons due to crimes committed in the service of getting drugs, he became a drug treatment counselor with Second Genesis near Washington, DC.
Dr. Frederick Glaser came to the Narcotic Farm in 1964 on a two-year psychiatric residency. Like many who began their careers at Lexington, he went on to work in addiction treatment for the remainder of his medical career. Today he is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at East Carolina University.
Bernie Kolb volunteered for drug treatment at Lexington in 1964 and stayed for a little under a year. There he worked as an assistant within the Addiction Research Center. A veteran of the Korean War – where he picked up an opiate habit after sustaining a battle injury – Kolb would leave Lexington and become a member of the self-help group “Synanon,” which he credits for his recovery.
Dr. Conan Kornetsky arrived at Lexington in 1948 while seeking a graduate degree in psychology at the University of Kentucky. Over the next four years, Kornetsky would be involved in some of the institution’s most famous drug tests, including ones that would establish barbiturates as highly addictive and dangerous drugs. Today he is a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Boston University Medical School.
Robert Maclin was the Narcotic Farm’s agriculture administrator between 1951 until the farm closed in 1968. During those years he raised his family on the grounds. Following that time he worked within the Addiction Research Center until it closed.
Stan Novick spent the better part of three decades in and out of federal, state and local jails and prisons across the country. In the late 1960s, by then in his 40s, he enrolled in a methadone program and, as a successful methadone patient, became a drug counselor with Beth Israel hospital in New York. He died in 2007.
Marjorie Senechal is the oldest daughter of esteemed addiction researcher, Dr. Abe Wikler. As a “Narco Brat,” she, along with her brother and two sisters, grew up on the grounds of the institution, living there between the years of 1940 through 1953. Today she is a professor of mathematics at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.
John Stallone grew up in Brooklyn in the 1940s. He dabbled with heroin as a teenager and by the time he was 18 he was addicted to the drug and began committing crimes to support his habit. He arrived Lexington – in lieu of being sent to Rikers Island – in 1959. For the next several years after his release he continued to use heroin, but kicked the habit after moving to California and joining the self-help group “Synanon,” of which he was a member until the early 1980s. Today he counsels prisoners in California.
The film’s narrator and composer, Wayne Kramer, is a former member of the rock and roll band The MC5. Following the break-up of his band, Kramer fell into drug addiction and was eventually arrested on federal drug charges and sent to Lexington – after it was no longer a treatment hospital – in 1975. Today he lives with his wife in Los Angeles.
JP Olsen is a journalist, filmmaker and writer whose work has appeared on PBS, ABC News and The Discovery Channel. He is also the co-author of the photo book The Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Prison for Drug Addicts, which he co-authored with Luke Walden and Dr. Nancy Campbell. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Luke Walden is an editor and cameraman. His previous projects include travelling to Lebanon, Kosovo and Uganda for a film on UN Peacekeepers. He recently re-located from Manhattan to live in Portland, Oregon.
Independent Television Service funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web and the Emmy Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10pm on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing television audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. For more information about ITVS, visit itvs.org. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.
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