Federal Medical Center, Lexington - History

History

The site opened on May 15, 1935 on 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) under the name "United States Narcotic Farm" then changed shortly after to "U.S. Public Health Service Hospital". In 1967 it changed its name again to "National Institute of Mental Health, Clinical Research Center". Its original purpose was to treat people that "voluntarily" were admitted with drug abuse problems and treat them, with mostly experimental treatments; it was the first of its kind in the United States. The 1,050-acre (4.2 km2) site included a farm and dairy, working on which was considered therapeutic for patients .

The institution was opened in response to a then-skyrocketing prison population of drug addicts that came about as a result of increased federal powers that stiffened drug sentencing laws. The institution was created by Congressional mandate to be both a prison and a hospital with a mission to incarcerate, rehabilitate and study drug addicts.

This facility is well known in the local community as the most haunted property in the city of Lexington. The well known "Gate Gost" has appeared at the facility entrance to many staff and visitors. The area used as the Hobby Craft area was initially used for a morgue and the examination of the dead. Voices and apparitions have commonly been reported from this area.

Throughout the life of the institution as a prison/hospital, approximately two-thirds of those sent to the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital were considered volunteers. While many traveled to the institution on their own to volunteer for treatment, other so-called volunteers were in fact motivated to go there in lieu of federal sentencing. The remaining one-third of the prison’s population - which at its peak capacity as a prison/hospital housed 1,499 men and women - were there due to federal charges either directly or indirectly related to drug use. The most common drug of abuse for those sent to the institution was heroin and morphine.

Those sent to the institution on federal charges were, in some cases, given the opportunity to volunteer to be test subjects at the prison’s lab. The lab, which was called The Addiction Research Center, was housed in the prison's basement and is the subject of a documentary film and compendium book entitled "The Narcotic Farm." Within the Addiction Research Center, anywhere from a handful to a dozen or more federal inmates were given a variety of addictive and dangerous drugs over short and sometimes long periods of time. In one test case, inmates were maintained on high doses of barbiturates for a year. In return for cooperation in the drug testing program, inmates were given a number of enticements, including better living accommodations, better food, time off sentences, and a small amount of drugs upon their release which they could take after completing a round of testing.

In 1975 televised Congressional testimony, former inmates sentenced to the institution in the 1950s stated that the Addiction Research Center ran a “bank” where inmates who had volunteered for the drug testing program could withdraw a small amount of morphine to be taken recreationally. Dr. Harris Isbell, who was present at that testimony and sitting next to inmates making these claims, did not deny their recollections. Though the institution was largely treatment-orientated and conducted vast follow-up studies of former volunteer patients to measure success rates of rehabilitation, in the case of those in the testing program, no post-release studies were ever commissioned.

Drugs tested at this lab in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s included opiates, cocaine, barbiturates and marijuana. Most of the drugs tested at this federal facility were being studied for their addictive potential and the lab’s findings were published in medical journals to inform doctors about overprescribing addictive and potentially deadly pharmaceuticals. The institution also conducted landmark alcohol studies. However, in the late 1940s, the institution began studying hallucinogenics, in part, to see if the drug could offer some insight into schizophrenia and mental illness. It was later revealed in Congressional testimony that the institution’s LSD research was funded by the CIA as part of the Agency’s quest to weaponize the drug in some way. When it was concluded that LSD was not useful in a Cold War application, funding for these studies - which were also conducted at dozens of U.S. medical centers and universities and lasted into the early 1960s- was cut.

Among the research advances made at the Addiction Research Center were the characterization of acute and protracted drug withdrawal syndromes, recognition of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as the active constituent of marijuana, and identification of subtypes of opiate receptors. Treatment advances included methadone to treat heroin withdrawal, opiate antagonist therapy, and recognition of the role of conditioning in drug abuse relapse

In 1974, the institution became a federal prison but maintained a "psychiatric hospital" title until 1998, when 2 inmates killed another with a fire extinguisher. Most psychiatric patients were subsequently moved to other federal medical centers.

Housing units are:

  • General Population
    • Antaeus
    • Bluegrass
    • Cardinal
    • Younity
  • Drug Treatment Units
    • Veritas
    • Mary Todd
  • Psych Units
    • Commonwealth North and South
  • Medical
    • Health Care Unit

Read more about this topic:  Federal Medical Center, Lexington

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