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What you don't know about drugs can hurt you: That's why we have the DEA.
Arlington is home to the headquarters of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the DEA Museum. After an extensive two-year renovation, this free museum debuts compelling new exhibits on the legacy of drug use, explains how drugs can affect the body, and portrays the work of DEA agents. “The museum also covers why the DEA was established, and why it’s important to protect Americans in this way,” explains Liz Thompson, visitor services coordinator at the museum.
The museum displays a fascinating collection of drug paraphernalia and products that have had an adverse impact on the health of Americans. You learn that before 1970, packages did not have labels and sometimes contained ingredients like opium, heroin and heavy metals.
For example, a bottle of "Heroin" from 1898 was marketed as a pain reliever and cough suppressant. There’s "Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Baby Syrup" that contained opium and alcohol. “There was a lot of infant mortality and a lot of mortality in general,” says Thompson. “These products were marketed recklessly.”
As a result, legislators established the first narcotics law enforcement officers and eventually required the labeling we see today. These stories about history and culture are what make visiting the DEA Museum so interesting.
The DEA is charged with enforcing controlled-substance laws as determined by the United States Health and Human Services Administration (HHS). The DEA also supports programs aimed at reducing illicit controlled substances on the domestic and international markets.
At the museum, you’ll learn about the duties performed by DEA personnel using innovative interactives. The first exhibit you’ll see is the Wall of Honor featuring drug enforcement personnel who died in the line of duty. Others show fingerprint specialists and diversion investigators who go after individuals responsible for diverting pharmaceuticals into the illegal drug market, causing our current opioid crisis.
The DEA also employs forensic scientists and chemists who gather evidence that the DEA uses in court. They can determine where a drug originates, the level of potency, and identify shipments of illegal drugs. “Forensics allows us to track threats, see different trends in drug misuse, and identify where drugs are coming from,” says Thompson.
Experts like Thompson are available to guide visitors through the modern, interactive displays, but you can take a self-guided tour as well.
Highlights among the DEA Museum’s collection of artifacts:
Walk-ins are welcome at this free museum, but adult visitors are required to submit their government-issued identification, and all must pass through a metal detector.
The DEA Museum has outreach programs geared at drug misuse prevention, and it’s an interesting place to take older kids and college-age students. Kids 12 years and younger can earn a Special Agent badge by completing word searches and other activities. And while there is usually a staff member in the museum to answer questions, groups of 15 or more should make advance reservations to ensure a guide is available.
Parking is available at Fashion Centre at Pentagon City garage, which is across South Hayes Street from the museum. You can also walk from the Pentagon City Metro Station. The museum is close to many restaurants and shops that add local flavor and entertainment to your visit.
For more information, visit the DEA Museum’s website.
Location: 700 Army Navy Dr
Arlington, VA 22202
Open Tuesday - Saturday
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Author: Renee Sklarew