This piece discusses much of the influential research done at the historical US Public Health Services Hospital and Prison in Lexington Kentucky, and its impact on our modern understanding of narcotics and narcotic addiction.
The 'US Narcotic Farm' was a hybrid prison/treatment center established by the federal government in 1935 for the purpose of incarcerating, rehabilitating, and studying drug users. To this day it remains in use, but is now a federal prison.
Soon after being established as the 'US Narcotic Farm', its name was changed to the 'US Public Health Services Hospital', and later on in 1967 changed yet again to the 'National Institute of Mental Health Clinical Research Center'.
The inmate volunteers were rewarded for their cooperation in experiments; they were given reductions in sentences, better food, better living space, and often drugs. Some inmates upon their release were given small supplies of the drugs they had been tested with, for personal use once leaving the facility. During later congressional testimony, a number of former Lexington inmates stated that the center ran a drug bank, where they could "withdraw" doses of morphine for casual use. Several prominent figures had been housed at the facility at one time or another, including the late author and essayist, William Burroughs.
There is plenty of history in the Lexington facility. Our pharmacological and clinical understanding of opioids is still largely characterized by the findings of decades of extensive research done at Lexington. The work done at Lexington shaped our entire understanding of, and approach to, narcotic addiction. Numerous clinical protocols were established through research at the facility - among these were the use of opioid antagonists such as naloxone to reverse narcotic overdose, and the daily use of opioids such as methadone to maintain narcotic addiction.
Most of the notable research at lexington took place in its early decades of operation (1930's - 1970's). However, most drug and addiction research rapidly went downhill once the addiction bureacracy and modern disease model of the NIDA had consumed the drug use and pharmacological research fields.
Some notable achievements of the decades of work at Lexington are as follows:
Introduced the use of methadone and LAAM as maintenance tools for narcotic users.
Demonstrated that drug dependence is not limited to classical narcotics and extends to other therapeutic classes (amphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine, alcohol, etc).
Identified and characterized specific opioid receptor subtypes and their general functions.
Recognized the significance of opioid antagonists in blocking the effects of opioids and, more notably, in reversing overdose.
Characterized the tolerance, dependence, and abstinence (i.e. withdrawal) profiles of various opioids.
Characterized the prototypic opioid abstinence syndrome, its symptoms, and its time course.
Compared the relative abstinence relieving potency and subjective effect-producing potency of individual opioids with the analgetic potency of the same compounds.
Documented the subjective effects and the abuse liability of many opioid (and non opioid) compounds.
Characterized the physiological and subjective effects of various drug classes - i.e. sedative-hypnotics, psychedelics, marijuana, narcotics - providing a basic outline for evaluating the physiological and subjective effects of new drugs.
Carried out well known CIA funded research on LSD in humans, examining its potential application in psychological warfare, interrogation, and chemical weaponry
The two documents below discuss many of the clinical and pharmacological observations made throughout the course of opioid research at Lexington. I highly reccommend reading through them:
Synthetic Substances With Morphine Like Effect - Clinical Experience: Potency, Side Effects, and Addiction Liability (Nathan B. Eddy, H. Halbach, and Olav J. Braenden)
Synthetic Substances With Morphine Like Effect - Relationship Between Analgesic Action and Addiction Liability (Nathan B. Eddy, H. Halbach, and Olav J. Braenden)
Sources and Further Off Site Reading: