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Science And Technology Studies

Documenting Addiction Research

A new book written by Nancy Campbell, associate professor of science and technology studies, traces the history of addiction research and the ethics associated with the field of study in the United States.

Called Discovering Addiction: The Science and Politics of Substance Abuse Research (University of Michigan, 2007), the book introduces readers to the nation’s first scientific efforts to understand addiction, and 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.

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 says 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.”

“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.”

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.