#HistChem Distillations


Each episode of #HistChem Distillations examines a unique aspect of humanity's material legacy and asks the question "how did we get here?" Michal Meyer (a historian) and Bob Kenworthy (a chemist) of the Chemical Heritage Foundation are your guides to engaging conversations about history, technology and chemistry.


#HistChem Distillations navigateright Episode

Treating America’s Opioid Addiction Part 1: The Narcotic Farm and the Promise of Salvation

Our current devastating opioid crisis is unprecedented in its reach and deadliness, but it’s not the first such epidemic the United States has experienced or tried to treat. In fact, it’s the third. 

Treating America’s Opioid Addiction is a three-part series that investigates how we’ve understood and treated opioid addiction over more than a century. Through the years we’ve categorized opioid addiction as some combination of a moral failure, a mental illness, a biological disease, or a crime. And though we’ve desperately wanted the problem to be something science alone can solve, the more we look, the more complicated we learn it is. 

Part 1 focuses on a government-run prison-hospital, the Narcotic Farm, just for people addicted to opioids. When it opened in 1935, it promised to find a cure for drug addiction. 


HostsAlexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago
Reporter: Mariel Carr with additional reporting by Meir Rinde
Senior ProducerMariel Carr
ProducerRigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: James Morrison 


Our theme music was composed by Zach Young. 
Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network

Research Notes


Claire Clark, author of The Recovery Revolution: The Battle Over Addiction Treatment in the United States

Nancy Campbell, historian and the head of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

John Stallone, former Narcotic Farm patient.


Claire Clark, The Recovery Revolution: The Battle Over Addiction Treatment in the United States

The Habit, Opioid Addiction in AmericaBackstory.  

Inside the Story of America’s 19th-Century Opiate AddictionSmithsonian Magazine


The Distant Drummer: Flower of Darkness 
The Distant Drummer: Bridge From No Place
The Narcotic Farm