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Distillations | Science History Institute

325 EpisodesProduced by Science History InstituteWebsite

Each episode of Distillations podcast takes a deep-dive into a moment of science-related history in order to shed light on the present.


Treating America's Opioid Addiction Part 3: Searching for Meaning in Kensington

“We should never, ever forget that addiction treatment is a search for meaning in a place other than using drugs.”

—Nancy Campbell, historian of drug addiction

(This is the third and final chapter of a three-part series. See Part 1 and Part 2.)

In the final chapter of this series we travel to the heart of our modern opioid crisis. In what is now a notorious Philadelphia neighborhood called Kensington, we meet two victims of the epidemic and follow them on two distinct paths toward recovery.

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. 


Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago Reporters: Mariel Carr and Rigoberto Hernandez, with additional reporting by Meir Rinde Senior Producer: Mariel Carr Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez Audio Engineer: James Morrison  Photo illustration by Jay Muhlin Additional audio production by Dan Drago


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 director of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Chris Marshall, former member and director of the Last Stop. Miranda Thomas, Kensington resident. Joseph Garbely, vice president of medical services and medical director of the Caron Treatment Centers. Lara Weinstein, primary care physician, Project HOME and Pathways to Housing PA  Special thanks to Jennifer Reardon of Temple Health Communications and to Joseph D’Orazio and David O’Gurek. 


American Addiction Centers. “Can Suboxone Get You High?” Brentwood, TN: American Addiction Centers, 2018. American Addiction Centers. “Pros and Cons of Methadone.” Brentwood, TN: American Addiction Centers, 2018. Campbell, Nancy, and Anne Lovell. “The History of the Development of Buprenorphine as an Addiction Therapeutic.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1248 (Feb. 2012): 124–39. Clark, Claire. The Recovery Revolution: The Battle over Addiction Treatment in the United States. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017. Giordano, Rita. “Opioid Addiction Treatment with Medicine Works Best. Why Don’t More Young People Get It?” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 10, 2018.  Oransky, Ivan. “Vincent Dole” [obituary]. Lancet 368 (Sept. 16, 2006): 984. Rockefeller University. “The First Pharmacological Treatment for Narcotic Addiction: Methadone Maintenance.” Rockefeller University Hospital: 100 Years of Bridging Science and Medicine website. New York, 2010. Shuster, Alvin M. “G.I. Heroin Addiction Epidemic in Vietnam.” New York Times, May 16, 1971. Thompson-Gargano, Kathleen. “What Is Buprenorphine Treatment Like?” Farmington, CT: National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment. Villa, Lauren. “Methadone and Suboxone: What’s the Difference Anyway?” Waldorf, Dan, et al. Morphine Maintenance: The Shreveport Clinic 1919–1923—Special Studies No. 1Washington, DC: Drug Abuse Council, April 1974. Whelan, Aubrey. “She Was Just out of Rehab. She Was Excited about the Future. Three Hours Later, She Was Dead.” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 26, 2018.   Winberg, Michaela. “Kensington’s Famous Last Stop Addiction Recovery Center Prepares to Move.”, March 26, 2018.

Archival Sources: Richard Nixon “Law & Order” Speech—1968. Video. John Chancellor. “Washington, DC Heroin Addiction.” NBC Evening News. February 4, 1971. Columbia Center for Oral History. Marie Nyswander, oral history. New York: Columbia University Libraries, Oral History Archives, 1981.

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