If you’ve ever driven out U.S. Highway 421 — or Leestown Road for the locals — headed north and away from Lexington, you’ve passed what used to be the U.S. Public Service Hospital in Bracktown. It sits back away from the road on the right, just past Masterson Station Park. Today, it’s the Federal Correction Institute, but it used to be a hospital for prisoners who were being treated for drug addiction.
Between 1935 and 1975, most everyone sent to prison for drugs in the U.S. was sent to the United States Narcotic Farm located at this prison hospital. And from 1953 to 1962, government doctors tested LSD on 300 human patients at the public service hospital. Because there was no money to pay the prisoners for their participation, they were given a choice of time off their sentences or the drug of their choice. Most chose the drugs.
Despite the controversy of these experiments, the filmmakers of The Narcotic Farm — a documentary made in 2008 about this Lexington experiment station — note accomplishments at the institution remain milestones in addiction science and treatment. Its most important contribution might be how it transformed the way society views addicts.
Check out this chilling photo slideshow from Scientific American of Lexington’s Narcotic Farm.
Photo courtesy of Scientific American from photographer Arthur Rothstein and the Lexington Narcotics Farm Collection