The mission of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Museum and Visitors Center is to educate the American public on the history of drugs, drug addiction and drug law enforcement in the United States through engaging and state-of-the-art exhibits, displays, interactive stations and educational outreach programs.
The DEA Museum will provide a unique learning environment for the public to discover the role and impact of federal drug law enforcement on the changing trends of licit and illicit drug use in American history.
Our Vision & Values
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Museum and Visitors Center envisions itself as the preeminent federal government institution for learning about the history of drugs and drug law enforcement in the United States and the integral role that DEA and its predecessor agencies have played in that history. Read more
History of the DEA Museum
In 1976, during America’s bicentennial celebrations, the federal government encouraged all of its agencies to develop exhibits that highlighted the history of that particular agency. Read more
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Museum and Visitors Center envisions itself as the preeminent federal government institution for learning about the history of drugs and drug law enforcement in the United States and the integral role that DEA and its predecessor agencies have played in that history. To that end, the DEA Museum will work toward accomplishing the following:
- The Museum will mount first class exhibits that attract, engage and educate the American public to a full understanding of the many facets of licit and illicit drug problems in this country.
- The Museum will develop and implement outreach programs to local and national audiences that reflect the mission of the DEA Museum and the drug education goals established by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the federal government.
- The Museum will maintain the highest standards of exhibit design and fabrication to present the most professional efforts at museum design and presentation.
- The Museum will maintain active membership in and seek accreditation from key professional organizations, including the American Association of Museums (AAM).
- The Museum will be regarded as an integral part of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s mission. As a recognized entity, the Museum’s staffing needs and budget will be adequately supported by DEA on a continuing basis.
- The DEA Educational Foundation will be established to serve as the not-for-profit support arm of the Museum’s efforts. The Foundation will actively pursue and manage funding opportunities for Museum projects as well as gifts-in-kind from individuals and private sector organizations.
- The Museum will actively promote itself, its exhibits and its outreach programs to the local community, as well as to the nation. The Museum will be made available to the public as much as possible; from maintaining a regular operating schedule to housing a researchable archive and dynamic website.
The staff and volunteers of the DEA Museum throughout this Visitors Center share a commitment to the following values:
- Dedication to excellent customer service.
- The highest of quality in all aspects of Museum operations.
- Factual, unbiased information delivered in a timely manner.
- Development of strong community ties.
In 1976, during America’s bicentennial celebrations, the federal government encouraged all of its agencies to develop exhibits that highlighted the history of that particular agency. A Special Agent with DEA’s Office of Training began collecting law enforcement badges worn by early narcotics agents. These badges spanned the entire period of time since federal drug law enforcement began in 1914. The seed of the DEA Museum had been planted.
Over the course of the next twenty years, that seed would slowly grow as agents and other employees continued to collect objects, photographs, documents and oral histories from individuals involved in battling drugs and drug trafficking. In 1989 space was set aside in Arlington, Virginia for the construction of a museum that would tell the story of drug law enforcement in America. It was quickly realized, however, that you cannot tell the story of DEA without telling the story of drugs and drug addiction in the United States.
What began as an opportunity to commemorate the lives and accomplishments of federal agents evolved into a broader mission to present the history of substance abuse in this country and the ongoing role that government has played in addressing that problem. In 1997 a small team of DEA employees began to sift through the collection of boxes that had grown from a few old badges in 1976 to a room full of material.
By 1999 the Museum had gathered momentum and funding and the facility with its first exhibit was opened. Illegal Drugs in America: A Modern History received critical acclaim from the press and public alike for the accurate portrayal of the more than 150 year history of drugs and drug abuse and the DEA. In 2001 the DEA Educational Foundation was formed. A 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization, the Foundation exists as a partner with DEA to support the Museum through fundraising, advocacy, and educational outreach.
In order to enhance the Museum’s ability to tell a broader and more complete story, an effort began in mid-2001 to expand the Museum’s gallery space. A second, changing exhibit gallery was opened in September 2002. The first exhibit in that space, Target America: Traffickers, Terrorists and You was designed as the Museum’s first traveling exhibit. Target America left the DEA Museum and began a successful nation-wide tour in September 2003. The exhibit continues that tour today as the Drugs: Costs & Consequences title. The Museum’s changing gallery has continued to host various topical exhibits including, DEA: Air, Land & Sea and Good Medicine, Bad Behavior: Drug Diversion in America while the Museum also develops and sponsors traveling exhibits around the United States and in other countries around the world.
As the DEA Museum continues to expand its programming and displays, more and more people are being impacted by the long, complex and tragic history of drugs in America. It is the mission of the Museum to present that history and to help visitors understand and learn from our collective past in the hope of impacting the future.