Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a Department of Justice federal law enforcement agency charged with investigating federal drug trafficking laws. The DEA is directed by an Administrator of Drug Enforcement, whom the President appoints and the Senate confirms, who is in turn directed by the U.S. Attorney General. The DEA’s stated mission is “to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States and bring to the criminal and civil justice system of the United States, or any other competent jurisdiction, those organizations and principal members of organizations, involved in the growing, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances appearing in or destined for illicit traffic in the United States; and to recommend and support non-enforcement programs aimed at reducing the availability of illicit controlled substances on the domestic and international markets.” That is, the DEA mainly focuses on investigating individuals and organizations manufacturing, growing, and dealing drugs and preventing drug trafficking before it occurs. 

President Nixon created the DEA in 1973 under Reorganization Plan No. 2 to consolidate federal drug enforcement activities in one federal agency. Reorganization Plan No. 2 describes the major responsibilities of the DEA as including: 

  • “development of overall Federal drug law enforcement strategy, programs, planning, and evaluation;
  • full investigation and preparation for prosecution of suspects for violations under all Federal drug trafficking laws;
  • full investigation and preparation for prosecution of suspects connected with illicit drugs seized at U.S. ports-of-entry and international borders;
  • conduct of all relations with drug law enforcement officials of foreign governments, under the policy guidance of the Cabinet Committee on International Narcotics Control;
  • full coordination and cooperation with State and local law enforcement officials on joint drug enforcement efforts; and
  • regulation of the legal manufacture of drugs and other controlled substances under Federal regulations.”

[Last updated in December of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]