In her new book, Discovering Addiction: The Science and Politics of Substance Abuse Research (University of Michigan, 2007), Associate Professor of Science and Technology Studies Nancy Campbell traces the history of addiction research and the ethics associated with the field of study in the United States.
Introducing readers to the nation’s first scientific efforts to understand addiction, Campbell’s book takes a critical look at two research sites a federal lab in a prison-hospital in Lexington, Ky., and a monkey colony at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor that emerged in the 1930s and 1940s.
Discovering Addiction is based partly on interviews with addiction researchers or clinicians who worked at the first site, which was run by the U.S. Public Health Service.
Officially called the Addiction Research Center, the prison-hospital lab was housed inside an institution nicknamed “the narcotic farm.” Residents of this drug treatment facility which could total as many as 1,500 were fed with food grown and cooked on site by the addict patient-inmates, two-thirds of whom were serving criminal sentences.
“You could go there to seek treatment,” Campbell said of the place, “and if you went voluntarily, you could leave against medical advice. You were mixed in with people doing hard time, actual prison time, and there was no segregation.”
Through an intense series of interviews all of which are documented in her book Campbell discovered that the Addiction Research Center offered a first glimpse into the developing scientific field of substance abuse studies.
“Drug users have rarely been listened to, recorded, or taken seriously by anyone to the extent that they were at the Addiction Research Center in Lexington, Kentucky,” Campbell says. “The people there were not hack scientists or quack doctors they were trying to understand a scientific puzzle that still eludes us. Why do some people become addicted, while others do not? Why are some unable to ‘just say no’ despite recognizing that drugs are ruining their lives? Why do very strong-willed people find it impossible to avoid relapse?”
Through Discovering Addiction, Campbell hopes “policy reformers, advocates, activists, and policy makers find value and inspiration in realizing that harm reduction and critical public health approaches have a longer and richer history than many imagine.”
Although it is too soon to speculate about how the book will be received in the worlds of drug and health policy, clinical drug trials, and addiction research, Discovering Addiction has already been praised by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Innovators Combating Substance Abuse program, located at Johns Hopkins University. The group calls the book “groundbreaking.”
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