As part of DEA’s public outreach efforts, the museum offers a wide selection of educational activities for all ages on site, on tour and on virtual platforms. A unique museum in America, it inspires visitors with the knowledge to become change agents in the fight against illicit drug activities and misuse.
The museum features compelling exhibits on the legacy of drug use, explains how drugs can affect the body and portrays the work of DEA agents. It displays a fascinating collection of drug paraphernalia and products that have had an adverse impact on the health of Americans over the years.
You learn, for example, that before 1970, packages did not have labels and sometimes contained ingredients like opium, heroin and heavy metals. 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. “These products were marketed recklessly,” says Elizabeth Thompson, visitor services coordinator at the museum.
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 U. S. Health and Human Services Administration (HHS). It 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.