Distillations podcast

Deep Dives into Science Stories, Both Serious and Eccentric
August 21, 2018 Health & Medicine

Treating America’s Opioid Addiction

Part 1: The Narcotic Farm and the Promise of Salvation.

Photo illustration of poppy flowers and prison-hospital for addicts

This is the first chapter of a three-part series. See Part 2 and Part 3.

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.


Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago
Reporter: Mariel Carr with additional reporting by Meir Rinde
Senior Producer: Mariel Carr
Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: James Morrison 
Photo illustration by Jay Muhlin
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 Addiction, Smithsonian Magazine


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


Treating America’s Opioid Addiction

Part 1: The Narcotic Farm’s Promise of Salvation

In virtually any of the hot countries of the world, where the soil is fertile and farmers still employ the oldest methods of cultivation, flourishes a plant scientifically known as papaver soniferum. More commonly known as the opium poppy. Its pods contain a milky fluid that for centuries provided the raw material for one of the most demoralizing and dissipating vices in the world.

Alexis: Hi, I’m Alexis Pedrick.

Lisa: And I’m Lisa Berry Drago, and this is Distillations, coming to you from the Science History Institute.

Alexis: Each episode of Distillations takes a deep dive into a moment of science-­‐related history in order to shed some light on the present. Today we’re talking about opioids, in the first episode a three-­‐part series on the history of opioid addiction treatment in the United States.

Lisa: While our current crisis is the biggest and most lethal, it’s not the first opioid epidemic this country has experienced or tried to treat. In the next three episodes we’ll take you through 150 years of opioid addiction treatment—spread out over three distinct time periods, or waves.

Alexis: Before we get started we want to clarify a couple of terms: opiates vs. opioids. Opiates originally referred to the slew of narcotics derived from opium—including heroin and morphine—while opioids referred to the group of synthetic narcotics that mimic opium—like oxycontin. But today opioids now refer to the entire group of drugs—real and synthetic.

Lisa: For the past 150 years we’ve understood addiction as some combination of these things: a moral failure, a mental illness, a biological disease, and a crime. Throughout the three waves of opioid addiction treatment we’ve desperately wanted it to be something science alone could solve. But we keep realizing that it’s really complicated and there are other factors involved.

Lisa: We’re going to start our story today in the late 1950s, when the United States was coming to a crossroads with how it treated opioid addiction. And one young man named John Stallone was addicted to heroin with no way out.

John Stallone: Everything I read, everything I heard was once a junkie always a junkie, once a dope fiend, always a dope fiend. That was from doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, the whole medical field, lawyers, judges…They all said the same thing, and this is like around the world.

Once a junkie, always a junkie. You can’t cure a dope fiend.

Chapter One: John Stallone Discovers Heroin.

It took at least sixty centuries to bring poppies’ euphoric effect from the cradle of civilization all the way to the opium pipes in Canton. But within only a few decades, modern science was able to funnel the poppy’s impact straight into the central nervous system. In one cool blast. Today thousands of prisons and hospitals all over the world are crowded with patients who’ve experimented with the poppy’s final derivative. And, who have become addicted to it.

Lisa: Chapter One. John Stallone Discovers Heroin.

Lisa: Our senior producer Mariel Carr reported this story, and we’re going to turn things over to her.

Mariel: John Stallone grew up in Brooklyn, in the 1950s. Now he lives in northern, California with his two parakeets—

John: This is Peppe, the big guy, and uh Violetta.

Mariel: By the way, you’re going to hear them squeaking in the background.

John      Oh, don’t you want me to get the birds back in first?

Katherine:          Oh, yeah. Get the birds in.

Mariel: Yeah. Can you put the birds away?

John: Yeah, okay. Sorry.

Mariel: In 1955, John was 15 when a friend asked him if he wanted to try heroin.

John Stallone: That’s how I started. I got my wings and I started puking, but the feeling was something like I never felt before, and that was it. I was off to the races. In those days, using drugs, you were a pariah. It wasn’t like it is today. There were very few dope fiends.

Mariel: Starting in 1958 John started trying to quit heroin on his own several times. But getting through the withdrawal was a huge obstacle. Then he found out about some doctors in New York who’d prescribe him methadone.

Stallone: They would write you scripts for Dolophines, and then you would just take these Dolophines, and you never even felt like you were kicking. They were great.

Mariel: Dolophine is a brand name for methadone, which is a synthetic opioid first developed in Germany in 1937. It probably sounds familiar to you because today methadone is commonly used for maintenance treatment. That’s when someone take a daily dose of one opioid, like methadone, to stay off a different opioid like oxycontin or heroin. We’re going to get deeper into maintenance treatment later on in this series, but for right now what you need to know is that in the 1950s it was illegal. And what John experienced? Having a doctor prescribe him methadone to detox? That was also illegal. And even though it was really useful, in the long run he needed more help.

Stallone: I never had any tools other than willpower. As far as I’m concerned, willpower is won’t power. I’m not going to do it, I’m not going to shoot dope, I’m not going to shoot dope, I’m not going to shoot dope. You know. Then something horrific happens in your life, and you know how to take the pain away, so boom, get back to the races.

Mariel: Even though trying to get clean this way never worked, he kept trying because there were virtually no other options.

Stallone: There were no programs. You’re talking about the 50s now. Back in those days, there were no programs.

Chapter Two: Back to the First Wave Alexis: Chapter Two. Back to the First Wave.

Lisa: So how did we get to this point, as a society, where someone like John Stallone wanted to give up heroin but had no tools to do it? To answer this question, we need to go all the way back to the Civil War, when the first wave of opiate addiction in the U.S. was beginning.

Alexis: We often assume that history moves in a logical and linear way, but it usually doesn’t. And in some ways John would have been better off if he’d been addicted to heroin a century earlier. Because in the 1950s John wasn’t just seen as a drug addict, he was also seen as a criminal. Heroin was illegal in 1955. But this wasn’t always the case.

Lisa: Heroin and morphine were developed as medicines in the 19th century, at a time when there was no FDA. You’ve heard of the term snake oil salesman? They could sell their concoctions out of wagons at the county fair. So medicine wasn’t regulated like it is today. But as we all know, just because a drug is legal doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. Claire Clark is a historian of medicine and a behavioral scientist. She wrote The Recovery Revolution: The Battle over Addiction Treatment in the United States.

Claire Clark: Much like the opioid epidemic that we’re seeing today, physicians’ prescriptions really drove the first wave.

Mariel: Opium was first used in the U.S. during the Civil War, when soldiers were given millions of doses of opium pills, powders, and tinctures for pain relief. Even if a soldier made it through the war without getting addicted, there were still plenty of opportunities once he got home. Because after the war doctors were generously prescribing a new opium derivative called morphine. And by 1880 nearly every doctor had a hypodermic syringe—which delivered powerful doses of opiates that made pain vanish.

Claire Clark: The effectiveness of morphine and heroin in alleviating pain made them seem like miracle drugs, so they were used for a host of conditions.

Mariel: Opiates were prescribed for migraines, menstrual cramps, morning sickness, and what today we’d call depression or anxiety. If the thought of taking morphine or heroin for menstrual cramps sounds crazy, consider this:

Claire Clark Medicine in the 19th century was very different from today. Often the doctors didn’t know the cause of the conditions they were treating, and so instead they just concentrated on trying to alleviate the symptoms.

Mariel: Eventually people realized that opiates were extremely addictive. Articles in medical journals started urging doctors not to overuse them. But most doctors didn’t really listen until close to 1900, partly because things like aspirin and vaccines provided alternatives, and reduced their need. So the creation of new medical addicts slowed down, but what about the people already hooked? For one thing, the term addiction didn’t exist yet. People had “morphine habits”. And the broader idea of addiction was explained with a new scientific theory called inebriety.

Claire Clark: That theory was that all addictive behaviors, addiction to tobacco, to morphine, to alcohol, etc, that they all had the same underlying biological processes, and the same moral

implications. They were bad. The problem was that scientists and treatment advocates at the time were never really able to prove this theory, or even agree on what those processes were.

Mariel: During this first wave there was a blurry line where drug addiction was seen as a moral failing, but also a disease. Nancy Campbell is a historian and the head of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She studies the history of drug addiction.

Nancy Campbell: You have think about the 19th century as a time when we thought that drug addiction, narcotic addiction, was a psychopathology. It was a disorder that was akin to other mental disorders.

Mariel: Inebriate homes, asylums, and sanitariums treated both patients with mental illnesses and those with drug addictions.

Nancy Campbell: Drug addicts were small enough in number that they were mixed in.

Mariel: On paper these institutions sounded pretty nice, if not utopian. They were in beautiful country settings, they offered some spirituality, some exercise. But they never cured enough people to stay in business.

Claire Clark: They were sometimes run by charlatans and beset by scandal. By the first decades of the 20th century, the public had really grown wary of treatment as the solution to the problem of addiction. Both funding and demand for treatment dried up.

Mariel: There was another reason that the public began to see the problem differently. If those conditions I listed earlier seemed to primarily affect women it’s not a coincidence. Middle-­‐class white women formed the majority of opiate addicts before 1900. Two thirds of them. But these women didn’t typically end up in the inebriate homes and asylums.

Nancy Campbell: They were not thought to be a social problem. They were pitied and their families understood that they needed laudanum or a morphine in order to maintain themselves. And so, they were kept at home. They were treated by doctors, they were maintained essentially by doctors. They did not end up in institutions. Institutional care for drug addicts were for the down and out. The drifters, the unemployed.

Mariel: People were not as sympathetic to this new class of users, and they started to think if inebriety couldn’t be cured, it could at least be outlawed.

The Harrison Act of 1914, strengthened by a series of Treasury Department regulations, is the basic law restricting production and distribution of narcotics. Although the law does not refer to the addict himself, the implicit premise is that addiction is a willful indulgence, meriting punishment.

Mariel: The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act turned drug users into criminals, swinging the pendulum away from drug addiction as a moral deficiency or a disease, to drug addiction as a crime. And by the 1920s people arrested on drug charges made up a third of the general prison population.

Chapter Three: The Narcotic Farm Lisa: Chapter Three. The second wave.

Alexis: The Harrison Act went flooded prisons with drug-­‐addicted inmates. This problem contributed to the establishment of two federal prison-­‐hospitals just for people addicted to narcotics—mostly heroin. They were run by doctors in the U.S. public health service. One was in Fort Worth, Texas, and the other was in Lexington, Kentucky. They were called Narcotic Farms.

From THE NARCOTIC FARM https://vimeo.com/97168417

DEITCH: There was a feeling that addicts did not have the character, the reliability of the other criminal inmates. And the wardens of those prisons were saying, “listen, these addicts are ruining my good prisoners. I would prefer to get them out.”

Mariel: In 1951 David Deitch was a patient at Lexington. That was him speaking in a 2008 documentary called The Narcotic Farm, by J.P. Olsen and Luke Walden. Throughout this second wave of opioid addiction treatment—so from the Harrison Act of 1914 up until the 1960s—if you were arrested for narcotics in the U.S., you would end up at one of these two Narcotic Farms.

John Stallone: One of the times I got busted. The judge said, “I’ll either send you to prison, or do you want to go to Lexington, Kentucky and clean up?” I said, “Oh, I want to clean up, of course.” That’s why I ended up going down there rather than go to jail. It ended up being a penitentiary anyway.

Mariel: But at the beginning, people were really optimistic about these prison-­‐hospitals. The Narcotic Farm documentary tells the story of Lexington, from its opening in 1935.

From THE NARCOTIC FARM https://vimeo.com/97168417

When the United States Public Health Service hospital was established in Lexington Kentucky, the problem of narcotic drug addiction was put under the banner of medicine. Until that time, this problem had been regarded almost solely as a correctional one.

Mariel: The pendulum had swung back to drug addict as patient, but only halfway. Now he was a patient and a criminal. No one knew what to do with narcotic addicts, but the doctors at Lexington thought they could cure them.

Nancy Campbell: They had great faith that science would find a cure. When you really read the text from that time, the newspaper coverage, they really thought they were just around the corner from a cure for drug addiction.

From THE NARCOTIC FARM https://vimeo.com/97168417

DEITCH: Lexington was a prison, and a hospital, and a symbolic and literal expression of America’s schizophrenia about how to treat addiction. Is it a medical problem? A social problem? A criminal problem? What is it?

Mariel: It was all of the above. On the street it was still very much a crime that would get you arrested. But instead of landing in a regular prison, you would end up at the Narcotic Farm. But there were also people who chose to go to Lexington. At any time about two thirds of the patients were volunteers.

Sometimes it was people who needed medical care, sometimes they just needed to get off the street for a while. But for people who really wanted to get clean it speaks to what John told us: there were virtually no other programs for drug addiction recovery, and at least at Lexington you got drugs first.

John Stallone: The first part was great. You’re in your pajamas all the time, bathrobe. They used to shoot you up and wean you down with heroin…morphine, rather. When I got there, they had just started using Methadone. They had it in orange juice form. They would give you your methadone every day. Of course, they ask you when you come in how much dope you’re using, and you always tell them you use five times more than you normally did, so that you would get high for a while. Then after all of that, then you go down into population. That’s the end of treatment. You’re treated like a regular prisoner. There were guys there doing 20 years, 30 years. Now you’re in the real pen. That was what Lexington was.

Mariel: There’s no doubt it was prison, but it definitely wasn’t your average prison.

Nancy Campbell: The institution itself was modeled on British ideas about moral therapy and therapeutic communities and the sort of healthy effects of air and light and kind of the physical environment, the beauty of the physical environment, the rolling hills of Lexington. They were trying to bring together a lot of ideas about what would cure drug addiction.

Mariel: Everything was viewed as a kind of therapy. There was what they called vocational therapy: where you could learn how to sew or fix a car. And, of course, everyone worked on the farm. Lexington was situated on an actual farm and the patients milked cows and grew their own food. There was also what they called recreational therapy:

Nancy Campbell: They had a golf course. They had softball and tennis. They had tennis courts inside. They were obsessive about documenting how many hours of bowling they offered, how many hours of billiards. And don’t forget, some of these guys were really good at billiards. Of course the big recreational therapy both at Lexington and Fort Worth was jazz musicians.

Instead of thinking that jazz music was a cause of drug addiction, they actually thought that jazz music and learning to become a musician was a cure for it. Some of the all-­‐time greats went through Lexington.

Mariel: Sonny Rollins and Chet Baker spent time there. And so did other artists: William S. Burroughs wrote about Lexington in his semi-­‐autobiographical book Junkie. In addition to recreational and vocational therapy, there was also therapy-­‐therapy.

Nancy Campbell: There was an early version of Narcotics Anonymous called Addicts Anonymous that began at Lexington. There were early versions of therapeutic communities. There was talk therapy. There was group therapy. There was individual more sort of psychoanalytic therapy…

Mariel: Psychiatrists had never really tested out psychoanalytic therapy with drug addicts before, so they didn’t know if it would work. And over the years, they found out that for the most part it didn’t. Here’s John Stallone again,

John Stallone: They had a psychiatrist talk to you, and they wanted you to talk about your mother. I mean, here I am from Brooklyn. I’m going to tell this stranger about my mother? I want to get up and smack him. You know? You were treated like, therapeutically like a chimp in an experimental lab. That’s the feeling I got from the psychiatrist and the therapist that tried to work with me in Lexington, Kentucky.

Mariel: John was a part of an experiment. The Narcotic Farm itself was an experiment. No one understood drug addiction, and they were discovering that a cure was not as close as they’d hoped. Over time Lexington began to see patients leave and come back, re-­‐addicted to heroin, sometimes as many as twenty-­‐five times. They started having less faith in the psychoanalytic therapy and see less success with the vocational therapy.

Nancy Campbell: They found out, of course, that milking cows at 4:00 in the morning does not cure drug addiction and taking people who are from city situations and putting them into that situation wasn’t particularly curative either.

Mariel: But there was a part of Lexington that wasn’t a complete failure. Which brings me to a second, smaller and distinct program at the Narcotic Farm. A research program that was trying to solve the puzzle of drug addiction at large. From the beginning an important part of the Lexington experiment was a place called The Addiction Research Center, or the ARC. And it actually did experiment on chimps, as well as human inmates.

John Stallone [from Narcotic Farm]: They would get the monkeys hooked, and then they would just cut the monkeys off and make them kick cold. And then the monkeys would go through tremendous withdrawals like vomiting and what not man, and then they would come back in with the needle again and the monkeys would totally freak out.

Mariel: In order to solve the problem of addiction The ARC started by looking at the drugs.

Its mission is to investigate the nature of the drugs themselves. Our understanding of the scientific working of drugs, their physical effects on people, what changes they cause in the body, are questions for which we have few precise answers.

Nancy Campbell: At the time there had been some experimentation trying to get good animal models of addiction, but in the 1920s they really needed to have a set of human beings who would serve as experimental subjects.

Mariel: At the ARC those experimental subjects were a small group of inmates—the same people the institution was supposed to be curing. And researchers used them to test every drug that was available at the time—legal and illegal.

From THE NARCOTIC FARM https://vimeo.com/97168417

This scene shows a subject at the beginning of a study, experiencing the acute effects of morphine.

Mariel: They tested heroin, morphine, methadone, cocaine, as well as tranquilizers and barbiturates. No one knew if some of these drugs were addictive, even though some of them were on the market.

Highly sophisticated equipment measures the concentration of drug molecules within the body. This enables the researcher to compare what he sees in human behavior with what the instrument reveals the drug is doing to the body’s organs, tissues, and chemistry.

From THE NARCOTIC FARM https://vimeo.com/97168417 Fever, goose flesh, excessive sweating and vomiting.

Nancy Campbell: They would systematically put people into withdrawal. They were trying to measure: how bad was it? Could people die of it? How did we relieve it? No one knew the answers to some of the basic questions about addiction.

Mariel: Scientists in the ARC applied some of what they learned directly on the rest of the population at Lexington. Remember how John Stallone said they had just started giving new inmates Methadone when he got there? Well, methadone has an interesting history. And a lot of it took place at the Narcotic Farm.

Nancy Campbell: Methadone was synthesized in Germany during the war and as a spoil of war, it was brought to the United States immediately following the war, and it was almost immediately tested at Lexington. Because there was the thought that maybe this is the non-­‐ addictive analgesic we’ve been looking for.

Mariel: It wasn’t. It was addictive just like heroin and morphine. But Lexington scientists came up with another use for it: they figured out how to use it to taper patients off of heroin and other opioids.

Nancy Campbell: Immediately, once they figure that out, they put Methadone into use in their detox unit. This is the only place by the way, in the country where there is medically assisted detox. Everywhere else in the country, people are going to jail, and they are doing what was referred to as cold turkey withdrawal, which is fairly dangerous and led to all sorts of problems in jails across the country as well as what we might see as a kind of inhumanity.

Mariel: Methadone made life a lot better for people just arriving to Lexington, and the ARC was behind that. But what about the inmates who were their test subjects? Weren’t they at Lexington to get off drugs?



Patients from the clinical research center volunteer for a variety of tests, involving the actual intake of drugs. To the outsider these tests may appear meaningless, and from a conservative point of view, immoral.

Mariel: But Nancy Campbell sees it differently.

Nancy Campbell: Now the people who went to treatment voluntarily at Lexington were never involved in experiments. Only the people who had to stay there long enough to participate in experiments were sought out as volunteers. They were for the most part pretty experienced addicts, people who had used drugs for a long time, and people who said that they were not there to look for a cure.

Mariel: The ARC might not have directly helped their test subjects, but the program did contribute really crucial research to the world.

Nancy Campbell: So many drugs were not allowed to go on the US market, and they were even kept off the world market. So the human testing program, the clinical testing program, was extremely important for the purposes of global drug policy and drug control throughout the entire 20th century, really up until the 1970s.

They would never have allowed a drug like OxyContin to go on the market. They would have immediately shut that down.

Mariel: But by the 1970s some other government-­‐led medical studies were making people think about ethics. Like the Tuskeegee experiment and how CIA was testing LSD. Here’s another clip from The Narcotic Farm.

From THE NARCOTIC FARM https://vimeo.com/97168417

One result was the investigation of medical research programs throughout the country, including the ARC at the Narcotic Farm. The American people need to know the truth about experimentation with human subjects, both witting and unwitting. Senator Edward Kennedy led the Congressional hearings.

Mariel: The ARC was deemed unethical and was forced to close. Meanwhile, the rest of Lexington—the prison-­‐hospital part—was also failing.

Nancy Campbell: Addiction is a tough nut to crack. It is a very scientifically puzzling kind of disorder. There are instances, right, of people who left Lexington, never returned, and appear to have gone into a straighter life than they had up until that point.

Mariel: But there were also people on the other end of the spectrum:

Nancy Campbell: They knew that sometimes they saw people more than once. There were a group of 30 to 40 patients who had 25 or more admissions to that institution.

Mariel: These frequent flyers were indicative that the Narcotic Farm wasn’t working, and the original optimism faded to disappointment and a sense of futility set in.

From Distant Drummer: Bridge From No Place https://collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-­‐101299851-­‐vid

For decades these hospitals themselves have been maligned and misunderstood. They’ve often been cited as examples of how difficult it is to treat, much less cure an addict.

Mariel: This is Claire Clark again, author of The Recovery Revolution.

Claire Clark: It made the medical officials who worked there disillusioned with treatment, because people would keep coming back readmitted. It made the people who went through it very disillusioned with medical treatment, because they felt like it was ineffective, and dehumanizing in certain ways.

John Stallone: In the Narcotic Farm you were a convict, as simple as that. You were a convict. You had no rights. You couldn’t say nothing. If you said anything to the hacks, you get the

[expletive] beat out of you. They told you when to get up, they told you when to go to sleep. They told you when to eat.

Mariel: One of the unintended effects of rounding up all the people addicted to drugs and putting them together was that it vastly increased each person’s network of other people addicted to drugs. Claire Clark argues that instead of rehabilitating people, the Narcotic Farm did the opposite.

Claire Clark: By isolating people with addictive problems, the institutions actually ironically wound up reinforcing a shared sense of identity. This so called “junky” identity among them. Then people often relapsed when they left the institutions and returned to the old environments that triggered their drug use.

Mariel: What happened to John Stallone after his release was pretty typical.

John Stallone: I got kicked out just before Christmas. On the train back to New York, of course there were a couple other guys that had gotten released.

Mariel: The group followed one of the guys to Harlem and they quickly found some heroin.

John Stallone: We shot up at his house. Then we all went back to our own neighborhoods, and that was the end of that. I didn’t even wait to get back to my neighborhood to use. We used right there in Manhattan.

Mariel: When Lexington failed people on both sides of the recovery system kind of threw up their arms. And the second wave ended with people still having no idea how to solve drug addiction.

Claire Clark: The circumstances were ripe for a reaction against that treatment model by the 1960s.

Lisa: One of those reactions is the formation of a new program called Synanon. It’s founded by a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and it emerges out of some of those ideas. In practice it was addicts supporting addicts, living together in a community.

Alexis: In part two of our story this is where John Stallone finds himself. It’s also where the foundations for some of our modern addiction treatment systems were built.

John Stallone: Everything I read, everything I heard was once a junkie always a junkie, once a dope fiend, always a dope fiend. You can’t cure a dope fiend. Then I heard about this little ragtag outfit out in California that was a bunch of junkies keeping themselves clean. That made sense to me. That was interesting.

Alexis: We’ll take you through John Stallone’s recovery and Synanon’s rise:

John: In Synanon, nobody was staff, everybody was a resident, everybody lived there. But it was all dope fiends. There were guys there like myself. And I saw guys that were clean one and two years. I said, if he can do it, I can do it. That’s what kept me there.

John Stallone: Got married there. My son was born there. As the years went on, it got better and better and better.

Lisa: We’ll hear about Synanon’s fall:

John Stallone: I mean, it didn’t turn into like the insane … Synanon happened way later on where it turned into a cult and got real stupid.

Walter Cronkite: Synanon is one of the oldest drug and alcoholism rehabilitation centers, long respected and considered enormously successful. But lately there have been changes at Synanon that have alarmed many observers.

Reporter: The group, begun 20 years ago to help alcoholics and drug addicts, has been attacked by former members who charged it’s evolved into a bizarre, violent cult, given to shaved heads and wife-­‐swapping.

Alexis: Tune into Part Two on September 18th.

Alexis: Distillations is more than a podcast. We’re also a multimedia magazine.

Lisa: You can find our videos, our blog, and our print stories at Distillations DOT org.

Alexis: And you can also follow the Science History Institute on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Lisa: This episode was reported by Mariel Carr, with additional reporting by Meir Rinde.

Alexis: And it was produced by Mariel Carr and Rigo Hernandez.

Lisa: This show was mixed by James Morrison and our theme music was composed by Zach Young. Special thanks to JP Olsen and Luke Walden, for the use of clips from their film, The Narcotic Farm.

Lisa: While we’ve been working on this episode about the history of opioid addiction treatment, Distillations magazine has been working on a story about how we arrived at our current crisis. So make sure to check it out at Distillations DOT org. And, please subscribe to our show wherever you get your podcasts!

Lisa: For Distillations I’m Lisa Berry Drago.

Alexis: And I’m Alexis Pedrick.

Alexis and Lisa: Thanks for listening!

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