Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): History, Role & Purpose

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): History, Role & Purpose

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:02 Drug Enforcement Agency
  • 2:06 Duties of the DEA
  • 4:51 History of the DEA
  • 7:37 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has extensive experience as a prosecutor and legal writer, and she has taught and written various law courses.

The Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, is the leading law enforcement agency responsible for preventing the distribution of illegal narcotics in the United States. This lesson explains the roles and history of the DEA.

Drug Enforcement Agency

In 2011, 22 people were arrested and over $2.2 million in cash was seized in 'Operation Pill Nation'. This was an investigation that implicated more than 60 doctors and 40 'pill mills' for illegally dispensing more than 660,000 doses of Oxycodone. Who conducted this extensive operation? It was the DEA!

The Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, is the leading law enforcement agency responsible for preventing the distribution of illegal narcotics in the United States. The DEA is one of many federal law enforcement agencies operating under the supervision of the Department of Justice.

Specifically, the DEA enforces all federal laws pertaining to the illegal sale, distribution, manufacture or use of drugs. This includes enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act, or CSA, which is the main federal drug policy under which the manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of certain substances is regulated. Through the enforcement of our nation's federal anti-drug laws, the DEA investigates and precludes drug dealers, drug-distributing gangs, drug trafficking enterprises and drug manufacturers.

The DEA investigates drug operations within the U.S., and also investigates international drug operations when those operations affect or infiltrate the U.S. For example, DEA agents work closely with Border Patrol and Customs Enforcement agents in order to intercept illegal drugs being brought into the U.S.

Duties of the DEA

The DEA performs many different duties through the use of various DEA programs. Some of the DEA's main programs include:

  • Intelligence, which initiates investigations of major drug organizations and acquires information that leads to seizures and arrests. This unit also helps provide lawmakers with drug trend information so anti-drug laws can be kept current.
  • Cannabis Eradication, which is the only nationwide law enforcement program exclusively targeting the illegal cultivation of marijuana. This unit provides resources to state and local law enforcement agencies in their efforts to curtail the illegal manufacture and distribution of marijuana. This also includes any distribution of medical marijuana that is not in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
  • Demand Reduction, which is a drug prevention program working in conjunction with local government officials, schools and treatment programs. This program focuses on educating the public regarding the dangers of drug use.
  • Diversion Control, which is responsible for stopping the diversion of controlled substances, including drugs and chemicals. Diversion means converting drugs from legal and medically necessary uses to uses that are illegal or not medically authorized.
  • Foreign Cooperative Investigations, which is the unit responsible for cooperating with foreign law enforcement agencies in an effort to stop international drug traffickers. This unit communicates with anti-drug law enforcement agencies from several other countries in order to share drug-related intelligence.
  • Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, which conduct large scale attacks on major drug-trafficking and money-laundering organizations. This unit works closely with other law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, Customs Enforcement and the ATF.
  • Southwest Border Initiative, which is a newer unit formed to combat Mexico-based drug-trafficking groups. Like the organized crime task forces, this unit is a cooperative organization with other law enforcement agencies.

History of the DEA

Now let's take a quick look at the history of the DEA. The DEA was formed in the early 1970s, by combining anti-drug law enforcement units from several other federal government agencies. It was formed shortly after the passage of the Controlled Substances Act, or CSA, and partially in an effort to better enforce the Act. President Nixon wanted to combine agencies as part of his all-out global war on the drug menace. This effort later became known simply as the 'War on Drugs'.

The War on Drugs is constantly changing in order to address current drug trends. In the mid-1970s, the DEA focused on Mexico and the production of heroin. They even used State Department helicopters to destroy poppy fields in Mexico since heroin is made from opium poppies.

By the early 1980s, the DEA was focused on South Florida due to violent cocaine traffickers from Latin America. Cocaine was in fairly heavy demand at that time, with approximately 22 million Americans admitting to having used cocaine.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account