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Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)




Responsibilities of DEA

Powers of Enforcement Personnel

DEA Drug Law Enforcement Operations/Programs 

1.      Aviation Division

2.      Domestic Cannabis Eradication

3.      Computer Forensics Program

4.      Demand Reduction Program

5.      Mobile Enforcement Teams 

6.      Foreign Deployed Advisory and Support Teams 

7.      Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

8.      IDEC

9.      Diversion Control

10.  Other Activities

Narcotics Registration

DEA Role in Controlling Drug Abuse

Current Events



In the United States, the federal government maintains law and public order with the help of a number of law enforcement agencies.  The Department of Justice is the largest and most pronounced law enforcement agency in the United States.  It handles most law enforcement duties at the federal level, and defends the interests of the United States.    The Department of Justice has different components such as Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a drug law enforcement agency under the United States Department of Justice.  DEA is assigned the task of combating drug smuggling and use within the country.  The DEA seeks to enforce the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.  Additionally, DEA has the sole responsibility for conducting U.S drug investigations abroad. 

The illegal drug market of the United States attracts a wide variety of drug traffickers.  Variety of drug related crimes are committed within the United States and across its borders.  According to the U.S. Customs Service, in the middle of voluminous trade within the U.S, drug traffickers conceal shipment involving controlled substances such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana, MDMA, and methamphetamine for distribution in U.S. neighborhoods.[i]  Therefore, narcotics enforcement agencies such as DEA play a very important and challenging role in curbing illegal drug related activities.


The Drug Enforcement Administration was created on July 1, 1973 by President Richard Nixon through an Executive Order consequent to the Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1973.  DEA was created in an effort to create a single federal agency to enforce the federal drug laws and co-ordinate and consolidate the government’s control activities.  Therefore, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement, and other Federal offices merged together to form the DEA.

DEA was originally headquartered in Washington DC.  In 1989, as a result of the increased federal drug law enforcement activities and consequent increase in the staff the DEA headquarters was shifted to Pentagon City of Virginia.  In 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was attacked by Timothy McVeigh.  The regional offices of FBI, ATF, and DEA were located in this building, and the attack was in revenge to the raid conducted by these agencies.  The attack resulted in the death of a few employees from these agencies.  Consequently, the DEA headquarters complex was classified as a high risk law enforcement target for terrorists and certain security measures were adopted to protect the DEA headquarters.

In 1999, the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum was opened in Arlington, Virginia.  After that, in February 2003, the DEA established a Digital Evidence Laboratory within its Office of Forensic Sciences.  DEA began with 1,470 Special Agents and a budget of around $75 million.  In 1974, the DEA had 43 foreign offices in 31 countries.  Today, the DEA has a total of 10,784 employees of which 5,233 are special agents and 5,551 are support staff.  It has a budget of more than $2.3 billion.  DEA has 227 domestic offices in 21 divisions throughout the U.S. and 87 foreign offices spread in 63 countries.  


The DEA is headed by an Administrator, who is appointed by the President of America, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  The Administrator is assisted by a Deputy Administrator who is also appointed by the U.S. President.  Human Resources, Operations, Intelligence, Financial Management, Operational Support, and Inspection are the various divisions under the Administrator.  The Chief of Operations, the Chief Inspector, Chief Financial Officer, the Chief Counsel and three Assistant Administrators one each for the Operations Support, Intelligence, and Human Resources divisions assist the Administrator.   All DEA officials other than the Administrator and the Deputy Administrator are career government employees. 

Michele Marie Leonhart is the current Deputy Administrator of the DEA. She serves as the Acting Administrator of the DEA since the resignation of Administrator Karen P. Tandy in late 2007.   

  • DEA Special Agents

 DEA specials agents are a select group of men and women from different backgrounds.  Applicants need not have any specific experience in enforcement of drug laws.  On job experience and dedication makes them premier federal drug law enforcement agents.  Any person who is at least 21 years old can apply to become a special agent.  However, there are tests and scrutiny before selection.  The candidate should not be more than 36 years old at the time of appointment. 

All applicants, irrespective of the posts they apply have to complete a drug questionnaire and submit it along with the application.  Drug use history, if any, should also be disclosed at the time of application.  Generally, applicants with a hard drug use history are excluded from consideration.  However, applicants who have only limited youthful and experimental use of marijuana are considered if they qualify in all the other phases. 

Applicants have to clear a multi-step hiring process to get selected.  Background investigation is the final step in the hiring process.  The applicant has to clear all phases to get a final employment offer.  On selection, the person has to complete an 8-12 week basic agent training program at DEA training academy.  During the training period the person will be informed the details of his final duty station.  However, the job of special agents requires a lot of mobility, and the assignments will be based mainly on operational needs.

  • DEA Support Staff

            Any requirements for the DEA support staff will be notified on the DEA official site.  Any person interested in applying may send their applications along with the required details to the address mentioned in the respective vacancy announcement. 

Responsibilities of DEA

Enforcement of controlled substances laws and regulations within the United States is one of the main goals of DEA.  Additionally, DEA is also in charge of recommending and supporting non enforcement programs aimed at reducing illicit drug availability on the domestic and international markets.  To achieve these goals, the DEA takes up some responsibilities.  The main responsibilities of DEA include:[ii]

  • Collection, Analysis, and propagation of strategic and operational drug intelligence information by maintaining a national drug intelligence program.  The federal, state, local, and foreign officials also help the DEA in managing the national drug intelligence program.  
  • Seizure and forfeiture of assets derived from, traceable to, or intended to be used for illicit drug trafficking.
  • Enforcement of the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act relating to the manufacture, distribution, and supply of the legally produced controlled substances.  
  • Investigation and preparation for the prosecution of the main violators of controlled substance laws both at the interstate and international levels.
  • Investigation and preparation for prosecution of criminal drug gangs spreading violence in the society.
  • Enforcement and enhancement of the mutual drug enforcement efforts by co-operating and co-coordinating with the federal, state and local law enforcement officials.    .
  • Initiating efforts to reduce the availability of illicit drugs in the U.S market by resorting to non enforcement methods such as crop eradication, crop substitution, and training of foreign officials.  Such initiations are made with the cooperation of federal, state, and local agencies, and with foreign governments. 
  • Under the policy guidance of the Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassadors, the DEA is in charge of all programs associated with drug law enforcement counterparts in foreign countries.
  • Associating with the United Nations, Interpol, and other organizations in order to enforce international drug control programs.

Powers of Enforcement Personnel

The Controlled Substances Act empowers the employees and officers of the appropriate agency with special powers to enforce the provisions of the Act.  The DEA officers or employees or state or local law enforcement officers designated by the Attorney General are given specific enforcement powers. Some of these include:[iii]

  • Power to make arrests without warrant for any offense against the United States committed in the presence of these officers/employees.
  • Power to make arrest without warrant for any felony cognizable under federal laws.
  • Power to seize property for drug abuse prevention and control.
  • Power to inspect establishments involved in the manufacturing, packing, storing, processing or dispensing controlled substances.
  • Power to inspect certain records, documents, and reports mandated to be kept by such facilities.

DEA Drug Law Enforcement Operations/Programs  

  1. Aviation Division

The DEA Aviation program was started in 1971.  After its growth over the years, the aviation section was renamed as Office of Aviation Operations (OA).   OA provides aviation support to domestic offices within U.S. and helps in drug law enforcement throughout the nation.  DEA’s pilots are experienced special agents and highly qualified aviators.  DEA depends on the OA for a number of drug law enforcement operations.  Currently, OA has 106 aircrafts and 124 special agents.

2.     Domestic Cannabis Eradication

Marijuana is the most widely used and readily available drug in the United States.  It is the only major drug of abuse grown within the U.S. borders.  Some State laws legalizing medical marijuana is a good shield for the illegal drug cultivation.  The DEA initiated the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) to minimize cannabis cultivation within the U.S.  This is the only nationwide law enforcement program that exclusively targets Drug Trafficking Organizations involved in cannabis cultivation. 

3.     Computer Forensics Program

The Computer Forensics Program (CFP) is a tool used by the DEA to retrieve information of potential probative value that is either stored or transmitted in binary form.  People engaged in illegal drug activities often rely on computers and other digital devices to store and transfer information.  CFP uses advanced computer technology and specialized seizure and evidence handling techniques to get the data from the computers.  Bank account numbers, formulas for manufacture of illegal drugs, names and addresses of associates, databases of assets and financial activity, sales and other business records, and other incriminating correspondences are few examples of some of the retrieved data.  Other activities performed by CFP are removal of password and retrieval of erased files. 

4.     Demand Reduction Program

 Federal drug law enforcement alone will not be sufficient to create an illegal drug free environment.  Other initiatives are also necessary to serve the purpose.  The Demand Reduction program is one such program created by the DEA to reduce availability of illegal drugs in the U.S market.  As a part of this program, DEA special agents are assigned to different communities around the nation.  Many special agents serve as Demand Reduction Coordinators, and they work in close contact with the anti drug organizations and other local organization which aim to create a drug free zone.

5.     Mobile Enforcement Teams

The DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams (METs) are specialized squads designed as a support service to help state and local police departments in attacking and controlling drug trafficking and urban violence.  In 1995, the DEA began assigning METs to various divisions.  METs are located throughout the United States in DEA’s 21 field divisions.  METs provide financial and technical support to various agents. 

6.     Foreign deployed Advisory and Support Teams

Foreign deployed Advisory and Support Teams (FAST) is a team of DEA special agents and Intelligence Research Specialists.  FAST aims to identify and dismantle the illicit drug trafficking racket and money laundering organizations.  FAST began its first operation in Afghanistan in April 2005.  The FAST groups provide training and guidance to the law enforcement officials in Afghanistan.  The DEA is directly involved in advising the U.S government and Afghan officials to engage in anti drug programs.  At a time, two FAST groups will be deployed in Afghanistan, and there will be a rotation every 120 days. 

7.     Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Employee Assistance Program is a free and confidential support program provided by the DEA to its employees and their families.  EAP engages licensed mental health professionals to help DEA employees and their families to recover from any personal traumas or work related problems.  EAP also conducts training programs, provide assistance to managers, and also responds to all emergency operational traumatic situations. 

8.     IDEC

IDEC is the International Drug Enforcement Conference.  The main aim of the conference is to share drug related information and bring a co-coordinated drug law enforcement approach towards international drug traffickers.  The IDEC was first established in 1983 as an effort to bring together all high level drug enforcement officials throughout the Western hemisphere.  84 countries attended IDEC XXV held in 2007. 

9.     Diversion Control

Among the illegal drugs, only marijuana is naturally obtained.  All other illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine are produced in laboratories.  Illegal use of such legally produced drugs is very common.  The DEA Diversion control program is designed to curb such activities.  Its goal is to make sure that the controlled pharmaceuticals and controlled chemicals are obtained only for medical use and not for any illegal purposes. 

Federal law requires that all businesses manufacturing or distributing controlled substances; all physicians allowed to prescribe, dispense or administer controlled drugs; and all pharmacists entitled to fulfill the physician’s prescriptions should be registered with the DEA.  Strict regulatory registration requirements have to be fulfilled to get registered.  The registration system acts as a check on the illicit use of legally produced substances.  Apart from the manufacturers, physicians and pharmacists, diversion cases may also involve employees who steal controlled drug from pharmacies, and people engaged in armed robbery of pharmacies and drug distributors.  The office of diversion control with the help of its various trained officials minimizes all these diversion efforts of legally produced controlled substances. 

10. Other activities

DEA also conducts many anti money laundering programs.  DEA is also a part of Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) which conducts multi-level attacks on major drug traffickers and money laundering organizations.  Additionally, DEA maintains state and local task forces to enforce the Controlled Substances Act and conduct investigations regarding illegal drug traffickers.  DEA is also in charge of enforcing international drug control programs.  DEA’s role is not confined within the U.S borders.  DEA in co-operation with foreign law enforcement agencies makes effort to control international drug trafficking. 

Narcotics registration

Any medical professionals, manufacturers, researchers or pharmacists can have access to the Schedule 1,2,3,4 and 5 controlled substances only if they register with the DEA.  The DEA maintains a registration system which authorizes medical professionals, researchers and manufacturers access to the controlled substances.  Eligible applicants will be issued a DEA number on fulfilling the requirements.  

DEA number is a series of numbers assigned to medical professionals allowing them to prescribe controlled substances for medicinal use.  DEA number is also issued to drug companies to manufacture drugs, and to pharmacies to dispense drugs for legal purposes.  The DEA number is a combination of alpha numerals.  The Alphabets in the DEA number are used to identify the type of registrants. 

DEA Role in Controlling Drug Abuse

Over the years DEA played a very important role in enforcing the drug law.  The statistics in the year 2008 shows that illegal drug use in teenagers decreased by 25 % as compared to drug use in the year 2001.[iv]  In the year 2008, DEA conducted about 26,425 domestic arrests.  It also seized around 49,823.3 Kg of cocaine, 598.6 Kg of Heroin, 660,969.2 Kg of Marijuana, 1,540.4 Kg of Methamphetamine, and 9,199,693 dosage units of hallucinogens.  DEA is also making continuous efforts to control the illicit drug trade. 

DEA also took actions on the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act within the states which allow the cultivation and use of marijuana for medical purposes.  The DEA has initiated several cases and administrative actions against medical professionals.  However, certain cases are filed against the DEA also. 

Current Events

The Operation Xcellerator” is the most recent operation performed by the DEA.  Operation Xcellerator is a law enforcement operation involving many agencies.  The program has duration of 21 months.  Consequent to the operation, 750 individuals were arrested on narcotics related charges, and more than 23 tons of narcotics were seized.[v]  According to the reports published on February 25, 2009, seizure worth $59.1 million has been made.  The operation also resulted in the seizure of more than 12,000 kilograms of cocaine, 16,000 pounds of marijuana, 1,200 pounds of methamphetamine, 8 kilograms of heroin, 1.3 million pills of Ecstasy, and $6.5 million in other assets.  The operation also seized 149 vehicles, 3 aircraft, 3 maritime vessels and 169 weapons.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has also joined in the investigation into Michael Jackson’s death.  Michael Jackson is alleged to be addicted to prescription drugs.  According to the associated press reports, the Los Angeles Police Department asked DEA to begin the investigation.  After Michael Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009, officials found a killer surgical drug among the cocktail of prescription drugs found at Jackson’s L.A. home.[vi]  Reports say that DEA is investigating into the drug propofol found in Michael Jackson’s house.   DEA might restrict the use of propofol which is one of the drugs found in Michael Jackson’s home after his death.  DEA may declare the anesthetic propofol as a controlled substance. [vii] 


Drug Enforcement Administration also known as DEA is a drug law enforcement agency under the United States Department of Justice.  Enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act, and control and prevention of drug trafficking and drug use within the nation are the main responsibilities of DEA.  DEA also has the sole responsibility for conducting U.S drug investigations abroad.  DEA is headed by the Administrator.  DEA, through its various operations and programs strives to enforce the drug laws in the nation and control the illegal drug activities. 



[i] http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/pubs/state_factsheets.html

[ii] http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/agency/mission.htm

[iii] 25 Am Jur 2d Drugs and Controlled Substances § 194

[iv] http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/pubs/cngrtest/success_in_fight_against_drugs.pdf

[v] http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/pubs/states/newsrel/2009/la022509.html

[vi] http://www.popcrunch.com/drug-enforcement-administration-dea-investigating-michael-jackson-death/

[vii] http://www.nme.com/news/michael-jackson/46136

Inside Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)