Providing straightforward information pertaining to drugs, drug use & drug policy. The Grey Pages promotes drug-related literacy and advocates a system of viable and tolerant drug policies. This is my personal collection of commentaries, essays, tid-bits, and other such writings on everything ranging from drug use, drug policy and drug-myths, to drug-science, addiction, human behavior, and the workings of the human brain. I started this blog with a particular focus on opioids, and over the past year have found my interest gravitate toward the intriguing, ever-changing world of designer intoxicants (i.e. "research chemicals" or "designer drugs").

Sunday, May 6, 2012

"The Narcotic Farm" (A History Lesson)

(Also known as the Addiction Research Center at Lexington, or the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital)

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 facility was created in response to a surge in the population of narcotic-users incarcerated in the federal prison system - an era of increased federal powers and stiffened criminal penalties for drug offenses led to a massive number of drug offenders in US prisons. Inmates volunteered to be sent to the Lexington facility, and were more than happy to become subjects of drug & addiction research. A majority of offenders housed at lexington were heroin or morphine dependent. The site was complete with a hospital, research center, a farm, and a dairy - inmate patients worked on the farm and dairy. 

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:

Sources and Further Off Site Reading:

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