Article about United States Narcotic Farm rehab center


Scientific American has a slide show of old photos from the United States Narcotic Farm, a converted federal prison in Kentucky that housed thousands of drug addicts from 1935 to 1975, including Sonny Rollins, Peter Lorre and William S. Burroughs. I like this photo of syringes taken from volunteers admitted into the treatment facility.

UPDATE: Here are more photos, along with information about the book and documentary by JP Olsen, Nancy Campbell and Luke Walden.

Reaping a Sad Harvest: A "Narcotic Farm" That Tried to Grow Recovery (Via Mind Hacks)


  1. That’s a pretty diverse bunch o’ syringes, no doubt about that.
    Standardization has crept in here too, it would seem.

  2. Perhaps some state-funded research on how minds can be addicted to religion would also be useful to public health.

  3. My father was a physician stationed at this hospital in the early ’50s. Our family lived on the grounds. As part of their rehabilitation, some patients worked in the doctors’ homes as cooks, housekeepers, and part-time babysitters. Although I was very young, I remember that my parents had to lock up their alcohol and some of their spices so that the patients would not steal them to get high.

  4. Mikelotus – with some people, anything that looked vaguely herbal would probably be at risk, just out of desperation.

    More grounded in reality, IIRC toxic amounts of cloves will cause you to hallucinate (along with become paralyzed and probably other fun long term consequences). Clove oil is a local anasthetic, although I think it can cause burns, and for gods sake don’t huff the stuff ever, it can kill you.

    I’ve heard almost-tragedy stories from morgue technicians who were looking for peppermint oil to put a few drops in a mask (for drowning out unpleasant odors) and not finding it, substituting clove oil under the assumption that a spice is a spice…

    And of course oregano is a long term favorite for being mistaken for weed.

  5. In addition to William Burroughs spending time at Lexington (voluntarily), his son William S. Burroughs Jr. spent time there after being convicted of some drug offense … rehab instead of jail time … and wrote at length about the experience in his novel Kentucky Ham. Incidentally, for anyone who’s never read him, IMHO he’s a much better writer than his father. WB Sr. was okay, but as someone else once noted (I think it was TC Boyle), “experimental fiction isn’t much fun to read.”

  6. 2nd from left top, is a horse syringe, or at least it was – the needle itself is too short. My dad had one just like it.

  7. Billy jr better than the ol man? Come on man,Kentucky Ham is good but it ain’t no Cities of the Red Night,which is IMHO truly masterful.

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