On Drugs

What if drug addicts went to a farm instead of a prison? It happened in Kentucky.

In the hills of Lexington, officials built a massive institution for U.S. drug addicts. Here's what happened next.

In the hills of Lexington, officials built a massive institution for U.S. drug addicts

A man is seen taking part in the Lexington Narcotic Farms clinical trails. (Kentucky Digital Library)
Listen to the full episode31:31

For decades, a unique institution operated out of the rural hills of Lexington, Kentucky.

Originally called the Narcotic Farm, it was a place for Americans struggling with addiction — largely heroin addiction — to go in search of better health. Many of the patients were sent there as alternative to jail. Others were volunteers just looking for a place to kick their drug habits, or just take a break.

The Narcotic Farm was entirely unsuccessful in terms of turning people's lives around, but many drug users found a place where they were treated with dignity, and while the scientific research was fraught with ethical issues by today's standards, addiction treatment owes plenty to the work done at the Lexington institution.

In this episode, Geoff Turner explores the fascinating history of the farm with: