An Exciting Place to Visit and So Much More
The DEA Museum collects, preserves, and shares the stories of America’s connection to drugs, including public policy, federal drug law enforcement, and the work of DEA employees around the world. To accomplish this mission, the Museum collects artifacts and documents and acts as the steward of DEA’s collections, archives, and historical materials.
As a key component of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s public outreach efforts, the Museum presents a contemporary learning environment with interactives and displays for visitors of all ages, and it engages in a wide selection of educational activities on site, on tour, and on virtual platforms. As a unique museum in America, the DEA Museum inspires visitors with knowledge to become Agents of Change in the fight against illicit drug activities, including drug use and misuse.
In 1976 the federal government encouraged its agencies to develop exhibits showcasing their respective histories to celebrate America’s bicentennial. A special agent with DEA’s Office of Training began collecting early narcotics law enforcement badges. These badges spanned the entirety of federal drug law enforcement dating back to 1914, planting the seed for what became the DEA Museum.
Over the next 20 years, that seed would slowly grow as agents and other employees collected objects, photographs, documents, and stories from people who pursued dangerous drugs and drug trafficking organizations. In 1989, space was set aside in Arlington, Virginia, for the construction of a museum that highlighted the history of drug law enforcement in America. It was quickly realized, however, that the story of DEA is incomplete without a thorough exploration of drugs and drug misuse 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 misuse in the country and the ongoing role that government has played in addressing that problem. By 1997 the modest collection of badges had ballooned into a room bursting with artifacts. A small team of DEA employees sifted through the material and assembled the Museum’s first exhibit.
Illegal Drugs in America: A Modern History opened in 1999 to critical acclaim. The press and public alike appreciated the exhibit’s accurate portrayal of the 150-year history of substance misuse and federal drug law enforcement. Momentum, funding, and an enthusiastic, dedicated staff gave the American public its first interactive deep-dive into DEA’s important work.
The sweeping history of DEA and drug misuse in America soon demanded an expansion of the Museum’s gallery space. A second, changing exhibit on terrorism and global drug trafficking opened in September 2002. Target America: Traffickers, Terrorists, and You was also designed as the Museum’s first traveling exhibit. In September 2003 it left the DEA Museum and began a successful nationwide tour. Today, nearly 22 million visitors at venues across the country have enjoyed the reimagined and renamed exhibit as Drugs: Costs and Consequences in museums, science centers, and other public spaces. Back in Arlington, several engaging exhibits took its place in the Museum’s changing gallery, including DEA: Air, Land, and Sea and Good Medicine, Bad Behavior: Drug Diversion in America. The Museum continues to develop and sponsor captivating traveling exhibits in the United States and abroad.
DEA’s story is everchanging as drug law enforcement and society change too. In 2019, Museum staff and partners embarked on an ambitious renovation to reimagine and update its unique visitor experience. The new Museum honors the service of DEA agents and employees, offering honest, compelling, and inclusive displays and educational programming. Sleek touchscreens and enriching hands-on activities invite guests of all ages to delve into the history of predecessor agencies and explore diverse careers at DEA. Colorful, interactive exhibits on the science of opium, marijuana, cocaine, and synthetic drug addiction empower visitors with knowledge of different drugs and their risk factors. An innovative and versatile education room is poised to deliver the Museum’s first distance learning programs and interactive discussions. A fresh, accessible website assembles virtual exhibits, recorded lectures, and other activities and resources to encourage learning beyond the galleries. These exciting additions accompany a redesigned Wall of Honor featuring newly commissioned portraits in a serene, dignified brass display area with an interactive kiosk that shares the stories of each fallen hero.
The history of drug misuse is long and complex. Today, the Museum actively collects and preserves artifacts, archives, and history in all media, amassing a collection of more than 5,000 objects and 40,000 digitized photographs for study, education, and research. It is the mission of the Museum to present that history and to help visitors understand and learn from our collective past.
Meet the Team
The DEA Museum staff is committed to collecting, preserving, and sharing stories from DEA’s past and how those stories impact the global history of drugs. By working with colleagues inside DEA and a wide range of external partners, the Museum staff makes a vital contribution to DEA’s community outreach efforts. Meet the team and learn about their unique paths to DEA.