The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s History


The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a federal agency responsible for fighting illicit drug distribution in the U.S. Through its confiscation, detention, and enforcement program development tasks, the DEA disrupts organizations violating the national controlled substances regulations. This paper explores the DEA with reference to its history and position in the governmental accountability structure.

Accountability and External Influence

The DEA’s power is not unlimited since it is only a part of a larger structure. The DEA’s head, the U.S. Administrator of Drug Enforcement, reports only to the U.S. Attorney General – the head of the U.S. Department of Justice, which is the DEA’s parent agency (Heing, 2020). The reporting is indirect and is performed through the second representative of the DOJ – the Deputy Attorney General. Regarding the degree of influence, the DOJ has the right to expand or restrict the DEA’s law enforcement power, so the impact is significant. For instance, in 2020, the DOJ has given it temporary power to conduct clandestine surveillance operations and collect data on crimes committed by the participants of protests against police brutality (Villarreal, 2020).

Basically, the DEA’s authority is restricted to drug-related matters, but the head of the DOJ enabled it to take part in suppressing protests for fourteen days (Villarreal, 2020). Aside from the DOJ, there are no governmental organizations to limit the DEA’s activities, and it is solely responsible for conducting drug crime investigations on behalf of the U.S. both in the country and abroad.

The Agency’s History and Reorganization

The DEA was established in 1973 as part of Richard Nixon’s Reorganization Plan No. 2. It proposed to unite professionals from the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and other agencies to create an organization responsible for all drug-related activities (DEA, 2018). Rather than being linked with scandals, that step was a response to the country’s growing drug problem in the early 1970s, including the first signs of international drug trafficking epidemics (DEA, 2021). Regarding reorganization, the most recent attempt to alter the agency’s structure was made in 2018.

To combat the opioid crisis, the Attorney General established one new DEA field division in Kentucky and introduced an opioid coordinator (DEA, 2017). These moves pursued different goals, with the new division being focused on “aligning DEA enforcement efforts within the Appalachian mountain region” (DEA, 2017, para. 2). The coordinator was to collaborate with law enforcement at different levels, thus helping to optimize opioid crime prosecutions “in every district” (DEA, 2017, para. 2). The DEA, however, has not commented on these strategies’ actual impact on the agency’s efficiency.


Finally, the DEA has tremendous but not unlimited powers in enforcing the law. It is accountable to the DOJ, and its parent organization has the right to expand the DEA’s power, including working with non-drug-related crimes. Created in the 1970s to address the beginning drug crisis, the DEA has recently undergone new reorganization efforts, the effectiveness of which has not been assessed comprehensively.


Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). (2017). Attorney General Sessions and Acting DEA Administrator Patterson announce new tools to address opioid crisis. Web.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). (2018). The early years. Web.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). (2021). The DEA years. Web.

Heing, B. (2020). Inside law enforcement: Inside the DEA. Enslow Publishing.

Villarreal, D. (2020). DOJ grants expanded powers allowing DEA to monitor George Floyd protesters. Newsweek. Web.

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DemoEssays. "The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's History." October 11, 2022.