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United States Narcotics Farm

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Before Lexington was known for its Selectric typewriters and its UK basketball team, it was known for a Utopian haven for America’s drug addicts. A new book, The Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of American’s
First Prison for Drug Addicts, traces the history of The United States Narcotic Farm on Leestown Road.



51 Responses to “United States Narcotics Farm”
  1. Allan says:

    My mother, a nurse, worked there back in the day. She used to ride her bike all the way out there each day.

    Thanks for the article, and the photo essay.

  2. Jack Ping says:

    I had a very short experience. The last year of Narco and the worked to retire after Narco became a Federal Prison. The old building is there as always. a few changes as the entrance but basically the same. There are several people around who worked there during it all and I hope they find this and respond.

  3. Robert Murphy says:

    My Aunt Rose, a RN worked there in the 40s and 50s.The fasade has always been in my memory, as the place she worked. Aunt Rose really never spoke of her work even as she sat with me at old St Joseph’s when I had polio in 1949. Another Lexington story, especially for folks from the eastern part of the state.

  4. Bruce J. Rose says:

    I lived on Spur Rd during the late 1940s and 1950’s. I had never heard the institution be called Narco until this article. It was always just refered to as the Narcotic Farm. Who came up with the term Narco?

  5. M.P.Richmond says:

    Sure, I remember the “Narco”. I began working at the V.A. Hospital on Leestown Pike in 1946. Of course the V.A. built bigger and better on Cooper Drive. I just never bothered to find out what happened to the Narcotic Farm as we were two seperate facilities.

    • Amy Rice says:

      I am looking for anyone who knew my father-in-law who worked at The V.A. on leestown road…Ben Rice..My email is included..

  6. Stockton Dinsmore says:

    Does anyone realize the irony/remarkability that Lex., KY had both a Narco Farm and the place where LSD was tested on mental patients at Eastern State Hospital both on Leestown Road?
    Wonder what else was really going on when green grass scared the living daylights out of Big Bros. enough to drive Nixon mad(der) and make us so deep in dept fighting a war on the poor that it’s developed nations and nation-states whose total economy is delevering our US illegal drugs.
    HELP OUR ADDICTS. And stop stealing my tax dollars for your war which is a bigger disaster than Iraq and Vietnam combined.
    But those two places in Lex around the same time, interesting.

    • Anonymous says:

      Eastern state hospital wasn’t on the same road as ‘Narco’
      It was on Newtown Pike and has recently moved

  7. ntezbnggreen says:

    Hopefully this new account will finally provide a tangible description and honor the many men and women who worked at “Narco”. The “rediscovery” of this imagery ideally forces the Commonwealth to address the current epidemic of Prescription drug abuse which dwarfs that of yesterday. History, failure to remember and being doomed to repeat it. The irony is staggering!

  8. David Tussey says:

    I recall attending a concert there on a summer evening in 1970 (I think). It seemed to me it was a rock band, maybe ELO? maybe Pacific Gas & Electric? Not sure I remember exactly which band it was, but it was a well known rock group. Such a strange event. It had been advertised on the local Lexington radio station. I had a date. We arrived at the guard house, were told “yes, there was a concert there tonight, and yes, it was free”. We drove the long, forbidding drive from Leestown RD up to this incredibly imposing “Big House” style building…something right out of an Albert Speer Germania drawing. We walked through the hospital to an underground auditorium…and sure enough, we were treated to a great rock concert. Amazing. And free! What a strange experience to attend a rock concert in a drug rehab hospital, and to even learn about this amazing institution in Lexington.

  9. tanya paisley says:

    did this place help any one? And why do people keep relapsing and they really want to stop in there heart?

  10. Angela says:

    My family knows Narco all too well. My dad was a nurse’s aide in the dispensary there in the 60’s-early 70’s. Twice, the patients jumped him and tried to kill him. The last time, about 17 of them, managed to cut off his oxygen supply to the brain. He received a brain injury and was never the same. He had to retire way too early on disability. The normal, nice guy was turned into a violent, alcoholic who abused his wife and 5 children (most of which have PTSD now). Thanks alot NARCO.

  11. Narco boy says:

    I lived at Narco (yes — that’s how we all called it) as a child. There were houses on the grounds for some of the staff.

    It’s easy to tell scary stories about Narco, and the internet is full of them. They’re not all mistaken, but the story is a complex one, with mostly good intentions frustrated by power of heroin and other drugs to enslave human beings. The treatment failures weren’t for want of trying.

    As for the patients — I’m sure there were some violent offenders there, but there were nice and interesting people too.

  12. cathy in michigan says:

    Thanks for exposing who is the real criminals here– the CIA and the doctors who destroy in the name of help. Look at how it is still being done, ads on TV even, for mind altering drug that harm again in the name of help. Very unacceptable.

  13. Laura says:

    I work on a talk show called State of Affairs from WFPL in Louisville. I thought I would comment to let you know that we’re having the authors of the Narcotic Farm book (two of whom also made the film) on our call in show on January 5th.

    We are a call-in show, so if anyone would like to share memories or stories about the subject, we welcome you: 502-814-TALK or We’re on the air at 11am Eastern and you can listen live online at

    I’ve been doing research for the show and the Narcotic Farm’s story is definitely fascinating – I had never heard of it despite growing up in Louisville. Should be an interesting hour. Thanks!

  14. I worked at Narco during the 60s. My dissertation was based on the institution. I also collected the “toasts” the prisoners used to chant that formed the foundation of “rap.” The patients put on plays, jazz concerts, painted and sculpted. They also put out their own newspaper. I still have several issues. Among the talking therapies, we had chances to try out different ideas, such as “through the Looking Glass.” In all, it was an exciting time.
    There was no mention, apparently, of Kolb Hall that was a mental health treatment facility on the grounds, but for foreign nationals. There were several Chinese sojourners who were there many years.

  15. Pat Carter says:

    Saw a documentary tonight and it was very enlightening. I always thought Lexington was just a fed joint. I live in NYC and when I was a young girl I used to hear guys talking about being at Lexington doing time. And to see that some of the great jazz musicians were patients there and performed great concerts. They say some would check themselves in voluntarily just to be able to play with their counterparts. Amazing. You had all kinds of addicts from different backgrounds but for the most part it was like a club house. At least that’s what was shown of the hospital. “The Man with The Golden Arm” (Frank Sinatra), I have and will watch it again this week. It’s been a long time since I took it out of the case. I saw it when I was about 15 or 16 years old. It scared the hell out of me to see him go through withdrawal like he did but as I grew older I saw that it was reality. Lexington is mentioned by him in the movie.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I was at the Narco from 1951 to 1956 0n what was supposed to be a ten year stay. The first two years was really,really rough. Though I have to admit my remaining time spent was the best time of my life or so thought at the time. I have been on any and every kind of drug ever since, whatever I could get. Now that I am old and on my death bed I get it all presribed by a doctor again. I just wish all the years in between were easier and that I didnt spend so much fucking money throughout the years.

  17. Batman says:

    I grew up in Eastern KY during the 60’s (yep, survived that….but probably couldn’t today with the abundance of illegal drugs & related activity)….we always were warned and “threatened” to always walk the straight path…OR end up at NARCO…..yep, that’s what we called it in the 60’s….

  18. melvin jerry meketon says:

    Pat Carter, just got around to looking at this article again and note you would like to know more about Narco. If you google my name, you should be able to get in touch with me. This might motivate me to go to the attic and get those old boxes down. Should be interesting to see how my memory jives with the notes in those boxes. Might even find some papers we wrote on: Cocaine and Collusion or Return to the Opiates, or the psychological scale of opiate withdrawal. Interesting times.

  19. I saw a documentary on this place and the Dr.’s used animals as well as humans for heroin experimentation and this stuff was as pure as it’s gonna get. At first the monkeys would stick their arms out of their cages when they saw the Dr.’s coming around with the syringes. Then the docs let the monkeys and the humans withdraw from this stuff COLD TURKEY and videoed this shit. After that the monkeys would go nuts when they saw the docs coming around again with the syringes–screaming and the docs had to pry the monkeys off the bars of their cages. The inmates knew what was happening when they heard the monkeys screaming and then all was quiet. The monkeys were the smartest ones in the joint. They didn’t want any part of the stuff. The humans, tho, could have left on good behavior time but chose to stay instead so they could go to the pharmancy and get the goods. Finally this all stopped when they tested results of syphillis with a number of black inmates and this information was leaked. The gov’t gave this country all of its’ drugs. Oh yea, it was all for the army and to make soldiers vicious. They cut this stuff so much now I don’t see how anyone could even get a habit. Don’t think that judges, politicians and all higher ups are not involved in having these drugs transported in and they won’t stop it because they make billions, not millions, of dollars in their pockets.

  20. thatoneguy says:

    WOW. I grew up in Lexington, and always heard about ending up at Eastern State,(for the mentally insane). Now in hindsight, i’m sure it was the Narco Farm that folks were referring to. Man, right in my own backyard. Big Brother is a tricky little fucker, huh? LSD doses for 77 days straight with rewards of a shot of “H”. How low we went, and continue this “drug war” scharade. Hats of to the C.I.A; Ollie North, and of course the ‘ol C.I.A. director himself, Mr. George H. Bush. Thanks for nothing, and the burnouts you call sons. What a fine mess ‘ol Jr. has got us in. Oh well, at least you help to pave the way so we can all self medicate in these times of federal and corporate selfishness. Its 8:40! Double your pleasure!

  21. Bill Hyland says:

    The band in the summer of 1970 was Pacific Gas – I was there – didn’t want to be.

  22. Joyce (Thompson) Howerton says:

    Can’t wait to get a copy of the book. Am from Lexington originally. My Dad went to work at “Narco” in 1935 as a Guard. Over the years he eventually was promoted to Psychiatric Aide and worked in the Research Dept. Of course, we always heard stories about the “Farm” first-hand. Families were allowed to view first rate movies on Saturday nights in the auditorium which was in a balcony above where the patients sat. My Dad loved working there since he had wanted to be a Doctor but his Dad took him out of school to work on the family farm. In Depression days that was more important. He had worked for the Eastern State Hospital prior to coming to Narco as an aide to the head doctor of that institution. Anything that had to do with the medical profession he loved. He retired in 1975 and enjoyed retirement until his death in 1989. At one time, he had more sick leave on the books than any other person in Civil Service. As far as I know, he took off only 2 or 3 days one time when he had trouble with his eyes caused by watching a workman do some welding there at the hospital. Yes, I heard many stories about Narco growing up and even when we would come home on vacation.

  23. Our family lived only five miles from”TheFarm”. My Dad worked there from 1935 util 1975 when he retired.

  24. Bill Hyland says:

    The horror stories I have read above regarding Lexington being a nefrarious place are totally erroneous. I wnet in on Deember 9th 1970 and left June 14th 1971. I turned 18 down there. I can nly reember one other teenagr (we hated each other). Anyway, people FOUGHT to get in “Narco”. By the way, NOBODY called it NARCO. It was know as “KY”. As in Lexington, KY. Rember, there were very few civil committments. Most of us canme in “lieu of legal pressure”. Which basically mean’t if you screwed up in KY you were sent back to the State Penitentiary that exists in the state you had your original offense in. I could go on forever about KY. But it was a great alternative considering you options. The food was AWESOME. It as coed. I actually had a girlfriend. They need to bring the “Narcotic Farms” back but they simply have to run them differently.

    KY gave addicts a chanced. The American prison system didn’t.

  25. Michael says:


  26. dave glas says:

    I spent 5 years in “lex” as it was known when the BOP ran it. I arrived in Jan 1982 and left in 1986.When I arrived there were 300 men and 200 women.We lived in seperate housing units but from early morning until 10 pm we were allowed together. we ate together, sat in central park , and most importantly worked together. thats how the babies were made! whether it was the kitchen or one of the mechanical depts you could get a job with your “walkie” and have sex. they were called walkies because you can only hold hands as you were walking. as the years went on and the war on drugs grew the population rose to 500 men and over 300 women.I have many fond memories from Lex, I had many jobs that allowed me to visit all parts of the facility. I was in the morgue, than used for making pottery, the drawers where bodies were once stored slid out to hold inmate projects! The commisary once held hydrotherepy and not a tub but sprays sort of like in “one flew over the cukoos nest”.there is an operating theatre on the third floor in “B” building that took advantage of the north light.I was able to visit the womans psych unit ran by Dr. Jack Eardly.I met sara jane moore while she visited.Lex was wide open when I was there, herion, coke, weed, pints of booze, all easily gotten. I worked Jaycee conventions and haunted houses in Lexington. They used us to park cars at masterston station park for a carnival held each year. I also had a front gate pass that allowed me to pick vegetables at the Jaycees garden! Does anyone remember jimmy Wishnea? He was caught with hundreds of dollars in quarters he stole from popcorn sales.The day I left Miss B Martin my counselor warned me to stay away from the women.At one point in my stay she found a hundred dollar bill and a small bag of pot in a 6 man room I shared and she simply threw it away. Those were simpler times. She had worked there as a nurses aide back in the day and became a guard then a counselor under the B.O.P. Im on face book if anyone wants to get in touch.

  27. ChrisD says:

    I don’t know if anyone has any information on this, or can point me in the right direction. I’ve been trying to find information on a man who “graduated” from a NARCO Lexington, KY program in the early to mid 50’s. While he was in the facility it was said one of the founders of Narcotics Anonymous (Jimmy K) paid several visits to the facility seeking information of the program to take back to NA. Upon his release he was said to have written a book I believe something like “Chasing the Dragon” or “Slaying the Dragon” Which a group has derrived a 12 step recovery program from. Anyone?

    • Dr Bill says:

      The “12 Step concept” to the best of my knowledge derived from Dr Bob Smith, credited with being the co-founder of AA (June 10, 1935). However that does not foreclose that NA may have been founded upon similar ideology pre-dating AA as Dr Smith based his self-help paradigm on historical research of alcoholism in America dating to 1844.

      Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, is authored by William White, in my opinion, the best addiction historian in the US. Please google either of the foregoing to answer your question.

  28. jan heaton says:

    After the “Crash=$” A company from Cleveland Ohio, many buidings along the cuyahoga river-called _DUPONT OHIO WORKS_ (D.O.W.) bought the remaining, stock market [1930s]–along w/metropolitan insurance co + others-.
    Rockefeller-[OIL] Carnegie-[STEEL]- DuPont-{CHEMICALS]-all in sales and production making Clevelad-”The Best Location in the Nation” Mr. DuPont started his Mantra in cleveland Schools , bill boards, signs on cusses,-BETTER THINGS FOR BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY– Chemistry taught in schools!
    Up to that point Grandmothers had all the “cures” from the farm-”Eat your GREENS”,how many of us have heard that?? NOT TODAY__IF YOU’RE ON COUMADIN OR WARFARIN [rat poison]1800-[for the U.K.plague]-NOW IF- you eat your greens you will bleed to death!!!
    Paragoric was a standard in our cupboards for diarhea- cramps- stomach ache-[an opium derivative]+ codeine cough syrup, [codeine has a healing effect] another home remedy- no one got “Hooked” on medicines!
    -Parents in control- went to court if children were bad-gave “allowances” for weekly learned “work for money”-
    Referred to N.websters Dictionary for truth.>>(marriage=1 man-1-woman///
    Nature was king!Mother Earth *respected-Clean Water-* precious- We MUST
    go back to family values being the most important products-
    ” we borrow the land from our children ” Black hawk-

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  30. Dr Bill says:

    I have spent years studying the concept of addiction and treatment from temperance through prohibition (1780-1919). Ran across the Narcotic Farm in researching marijuana prohibition.

    Don’t have a single note on this institution.

    The most interesting aspects of the foregoing are the personal reports. Any first hand knowledge of the institution, even by relatives (I guess 2nd hand reports) would be appreciated.

    If anyone with such knowledge is willing to communicate I will furnish my email, if not shown herein.

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  36. c. curzio says:



    I recall the Junk plague of the 1960’s, and back then we had few places to go and kick. Lex, or KY was one and Forth Worth was the other. I understand if you lived west of Mississippi you were sent to Forth Worth, east you went to KY. I think that some good came from it, and of course there were abuses.
    addicts were treated badly then, at least society is seeing it more as a disease, then willpower issues.. Yes, I recall the US Army doing tests to come up with delayed reaction Morphine, and others . some of the people in the video went to Synanon.


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  1. [...] Kentucky Educational Television; a slideshow of images from the farm on Scientific American; and a slideshow on the website of the Lexington Herald Leader [...]

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