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Life of a DEA Agent

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The mission of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is to implement all federal regulations and laws that apply to illegal drugs. The life of a DEA agent can be exciting, as you run covert operations and dismantle drug trafficking rings. But there are less dangerous duty assignments for a DEA agent, including educating the public about illegal drugs and working in forensic labs analyzing drug samples.


The 1960s were a cultural turning point in this country in many ways, and for drug use in particular. Until then, taking illegal drugs was not acceptable. But a tolerance began to grow during the turbulent decades of the '60s and '70s and illegal drug use grew. In the spring and summer of 1973, President Richard Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Agency to consolidate and oversee the government’s efforts to control drug activities. The agency started with 1,470 Special Agents. In 2009, the DEA had 5,223 Special Agents.


DEA agents must be between 21 and 36 to enter the Special Agent program. Once accepted, they undergo rigorous hands-on training at the DEA Academy in Quantico, Va. During the 16-week training program, they learn surveillance, firearms and arrest techniques, drug identification and report writing, in addition to focusing on physical fitness. Before the training is over, agents receive their first duty station. They might be assigned anywhere in the world. The ability and willingness to relocate is a condition of employment.

Types of Programs

The DEA focuses on fighting narcotics trafficking. But there are many programs that fall under that umbrella mission, including Asset Forfeiture, Cannabis Eradication, Demand Reduction, High Intensity Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering. Agents may be involved in any of these. A day in the life of an agent could be working to seize the assets of drug dealers, to stop the growing of marijuana in the country, to educate kids on the dangers of illegal drug use, working on strategies to stop drug trafficking or possibly focused on following drug money to stop criminals.

Field Work

Paperwork is a part of any DEA agent's job, but field work in stopping drug trafficking is not done from behind a desk. Depending on your DEA program area, you could be on the streets uncovering illegal drug activities or running surveillance operations in the U.S. or in more remote locations such as Peru or Colombia. Or you might be wearing special gear as you are called in to a drug bust to analyze and identify the chemicals being used.


If you are not interested in an active and possibly dangerous job, the life of a DEA agent is probably not for you. But if you're looking for a job that will provide you with an active, challenging career catching bad guys and helping to make the country a safer place to live, you may find the life of a DEA agent to be rewarding and satisfying.


Based in the Washington, D.C. area, Ann Oldenburg has been a reporter/editor/author since 1990. She has written for publications including "The Washington Post," "USA TODAY" and "TV Guide." She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Florida.