Episode Description

In 1965, a team of doctors at Rockefeller University announced what sounded like a miracle—they’d found a treatment for heroin addiction that actually seemed to work.

For nearly two years, the researchers had been running an experiment with a small group of men, aged 19 to 37, who’d been using heroin for several years—and the results were astonishing. Men who’d been transfixed by heroin cravings for years, who had tried to quit before and failed, were suddenly able to return to their lives. One started painting. Another finished high school and got a scholarship to go to college. 

The key to these transformations was a drug called methadone. But the treatment was controversial, and one of the doctors on the team already had a bit of a reputation as a bold, and possibly even reckless, defier of convention: Marie Nyswander.

This season, we bring you her story and the radical treatment that would upend the landscape of addiction for decades to come.

Art credit: Graphic design by Janice Fung

Episode Transcript

Lost Women of Science Season 5 Trailer

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: In the 1960s, heroin addiction was on the rise in the United States, and some prominent people thought the only answer was to lock everyone up.

KATIE HAFNER: But a New York psychiatrist named Marie Nyswander had a different idea: treat addiction by giving people a drug called methadone.

ANNOUNCER: This is a methadone clinic. Every day, Dave comes here to get his medication, as do about a hundred other former heroin addicts.

KATIE HAFNER: And this was controversial because methadone, like heroin, is an opioid

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: Dr. Nyswander already had a reputation as a bold and maybe even reckless defier of convention.

DAVID COURTWRIGHT: We're talking about a person who reinvented herself, who was capable of wearing masks like crazy.

MARJORIE SENECHAL: She did things that were outrageous. 

BRUCE TRIGG: Somewhere I heard that she'd been a communist. Have-have you ever heard that?

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: And Marie Nyswander turned the world of addiction upside down when she and her team at Rockefeller Institute started their experiment with methadone, just two patients to begin with, both addicted to heroin for several years.

MARIE NYSWANDER: I'd sit here at night waiting for them to come back in. Total terror every night. I had been around too long and seen too many miracles, which turned out not to work.

KATIE HAFNER: And the results? Well…to find out, join us on Thursday, March 30th for Season Five of Lost Women of Science. I'm Katie Haffner,

CAROL SUTTON LEWIS: And I'm Carol Sutton Lewis.

KATIE HAFNER:  And this season—The Doctor and the Fix: How Marie Nyswander changed the landscape of addiction.

Katie Hafner

Host & Executive Producer

Katie Hafner was a longtime reporter for The New York Times, where she continues to be a frequent contributor. Katie is uniquely positioned to tell the stories of lost women of science. Not only does she bring a skilled hand to complex narratives, but she has been writing about women in STEM for nearly 30 years. She is the author of six books of non-fiction, and her first novel, The Boys, was published in July 2022 by Spiegel & Grau. Katie is also the host and executive producer of Our Mothers Ourselves, an interview podcast that celebrates extraordinary mothers.