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Nancy D. Campbell - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Troy, NY, US

Nancy D. Campbell Nancy D. Campbell

Professor and Department Head, Science and Technology Studies (STS) | Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


Focuses on the history of science, technology, and medicine as it relates to drug policy and the social significance of drugs


Areas of Expertise (9)

Opioid Crisis Harm Reduction Opioid Overdose History of Science & Medicine Gender & Addiction Legal and Illegal Drugs Drug Treatment Opioid Addiction & Recovery Substance Abuse Disorder & Addiction


Professor Nancy Campbell is a Professor and the Department Head of the Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS) in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

Her research focuses on science, technology, and medicine as it relates to drugs, drug policy, and the social significance of legal and illegal drugs, with a recent focus on opioid overdose. She studies those who govern and use drugs, produce scientific knowledge about them, and seek to treat drug problems.

“How have ideas about drugs and drug addiction changed over time? What do we know about drug addiction, and how do we know it? Why do we have the drug policies that we do?” said Campbell. “We consider some drugs to cause social problems, and others to solve them. Often we are talking about the same molecules—the differences lie in who uses them and how they do so. My research centers on scientific communities who make knowledge about drugs, and interactions between scientists, treatment providers, policymakers, and patient advocates.”

Campbell is currently working on the history of overdose prevention, the ethics of LSD research in the US Public Health Service, and the fruitful convergence between neuroscience and addiction research.

Her forthcoming book, OD: Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose, will be published by The MIT Press in 2020. She has also co-authored Gendering Addiction: The Politics of Drug Treatment in a Neurochemical World with Elizabeth Ettorre. This book took up the theme of gender introduced in Campbell’s first book, Using Women: Gender, Drug Policy, and Social Justice (Routledge, 2000), which was about how drug-using women figured in drug policy discourse from the 1910s to the 1990s.

Campbell and co-authors JP Olsen and Luke Walden published a visual history of the federal drug treatment hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, titled The Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Prison for Drug Addicts (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2008). Campbell also appeared in Olsen and Walden’s 2007 documentary, The Narcotic Farm, and she often speaks about the relevance of this project to current drug treatment.

Campbell’s scholarly history of the formative science conducted by the laboratory at The Narcotic Farm, which was called the Addiction Research Center and is now the intramural research program of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is titled Discovering Addiction: The Science and Politics of Substance Abuse Research (University of Michigan Press, 2007).



Nancy D. Campbell Publication Nancy D. Campbell Publication Nancy D. Campbell Publication Nancy D. Campbell Publication




Challenging Punishment: Drug Ethonographies & Social Science Making addiction a brain disease: A social history of addiction neuroscience with Nancy Campbell Drug Policy: Unanswered Questions The Narcotic Farm


Education (3)

University of California Santa Cruz: Ph.D., History of Consciousness Program

University of Washington: M.A., English

Bucknell University: B.A., English

Media Appearances (4)

America On Opioids: The Many Faces Of The Country’s Addiction Crisis

Huffington Post  online


“This crisis has been brewing for a long time,” said Nancy Campbell, a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, who has published several books on drug policy and treatment. “We have to ask ourselves why it came in the form that it did, when it did,” Campbell said. “Those answers do not lie entirely with the medical profession and with changes in how we treat and think about chronic pain. We have to look at deindustrialization and the changes in our lives in different regions in the country.”

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Americans Have Been Addicted to Prescription Opiates Forever

Wired  online


"This is one of those examples where changes in medical practice changed the population of who is addicted," says Nancy Campbell, a researcher specializing in the history of drug regulation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

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Treating America’s Opioid Addiction

Science History Institute  


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.

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America's Opioid Epidemic

NPR  radio


A record number of Americans have died from opioid overdoses in recent years. But how did we get here? And is this the first time Americans have faced this crisis? The short answer: no. Three stories of opioids that have plagued Americans for more than 150 years.

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Articles (3)

The history of the development of buprenorphine as an addiction therapeutic Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

Nancy D Campbell, Anne M Lovell


This paper traces the early 21st century success of the agonist–antagonist buprenorphine and the combination drug buprenorphine with naloxone within the broader quest to develop addiction therapeutics that began in the 1920s as the search for a nonaddictive analgesic. Drawing on archival research, document analysis, and interviews with contemporary actors, this paper situates the social organization of laboratory-based and clinical research within the domestic and international confluence of several issues, including research ethics, drug regulation, public attitudes, tensions around definitions of drug addiction, and the evolving roles of the pharmaceutical industry. The fervor that drove the champions of buprenorphine must be understood in relation to (1) the material work of research and pharmaceutical manufacturing;(2) the symbolic role of buprenorphine as a solution to numerous problems with addiction…

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Toward a critical neuroscience of ‘addiction’ BioSocieties

Nancy D Campbell


Early to mid-twentieth century studies on the neurophysiology of the role of conditioned cues in relapse, conducted at the Addiction Research Center in Lexington, Kentucky, were the historical antecedents to today's neuroimaging studies. Attempts in the 1940s to see ‘what's going on in the brains of these addicts’ were formative for the field, as was foundational work done in the 1940s and 1950s by Abraham Wikler on conditioned cues, the role of what he called the ‘limbic system’ in relapse, and possible uses of narcotic antagonists to prevent relapse by extinguishing cues. This article sketches the historical context in order to situate continuities between historical antecedents and a current ethnographic case study focused on current neuroimaging studies of the role of ‘craving’ – and neural processes that precede conscious ‘craving’ and occur ‘outside awareness’ – in relapse conducted by Anna Rose Childress at the Treatment Research Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania...

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Incitements to discourse: Illicit drugs, harm reduction, and the production of ethnographic subjects Cultural Anthropology

Nancy D Campbell, Susan J Shaw


This essay traces a brief genealogy of state‐funded drug ethnography and its relationship to public health projects such as HIV prevention. Ethnographic research on drug use was a critical part of making invisible practices visible in ways that rendered them amenable to intervention. The essay goes on to describe how harm‐reduction norms were promulgated through the bottom‐up tactics of health‐oriented social movements, and simultaneously administered through an institutionalized and even standardized set of beliefs issuing from the highest reaches of the public health apparatus...

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