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What does a DEA Agent do?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated: Mar 02, 2024

A Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent enforces the United States government’s laws and regulations regarding controlled substances. He is required to follow the agency’s directives to identify, arrest and successfully prosecute offenders. These offenders may be located in the United States or in other countries, and they may be individuals operating independently or part of a larger group.

DEA agents are increasingly involved in the investigation and prosecution of terrorist groups because of the ties these groups usually have to drugs and drug trafficking. The profits of these international drug trade deals commonly fund other criminal activity.

Based on the wide and constantly changing scope of his responsibilities, an agent is required to be exceptionally versatile and flexible in when, where and how he performs his job. He may be asked to go undercover and portray unsavory characters to gain the confidence and trust of suspected criminals. In rare circumstances, this may entail engaging in illegal activities or even ingesting controlled substances to prove his validity and remove suspicions of him being an undercover agent.

Other than working undercover, a DEA agent inspects and analyzes evidence that may help strengthen the government’s case against an alleged perpetrator. This often includes lists of purchasing or trafficking contacts, customer names and locations, and records of financial transactions. His job may also entail interviewing persons of interest who may have information that would help apprehend suspected criminals.

Agents are often the people who arrest suspects in drug sales or trafficking cases. They are also regularly called upon to provide supporting testimony in drug offense cases that they have worked on or that are connected to their cases. If depositions are involved, the agent may be asked for his input.

Accurate documentation that follows protocol is an important aspect of a DEA agent’s job. Following strict guidelines closely helps prevent evidence from being excluded, and properly securing the confiscated evidence and related records is also vital to successful prosecution.

Candidates for positions as agents normally have experience in a related field, like regional or national law enforcement, legal work or military experience. A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or law enforcement is strongly preferred.

In addition to professional and educational requirements, applicants must be United States citizen between the ages of 21 and 36 years old and have a valid U.S. driver’s license. They must submit to a background check and complete both oral and written exams. Required examinations include drug, medical and physical assessments, along with passing a lie detector test.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon303561 — On Nov 14, 2012

@Comparables: You should pursue DEA and other law enforcement jobs. You have a first hand view of the perils of drugs and how they devastate families and communities.

If there were not an Agency like the DEA, this country would be even worse off with respect to drug problems that arise from the sales of drugs. High level traffickers domestic and foreign are constantly living in a state of paranoia that the DEA is going to arrest them and or extradite them to the US. This fear alone significantly makes an impact on the cartels ability to do what they want in the US.

Thank God we have men and women who serve the United States of America in their capacity as DEA Agents, DEA Analysts, DEA Diversion, DEA Chemists and DEA support staff.

By anon270205 — On May 21, 2012

I hate to break the truth to you, but becoming a DEA will only increase the trafficking problem. If you truly hate and want to end drug trafficking, you should become an advocate to end the war on drugs.

For every new DEA agent, there will be 10 new traffickers; this is reality.

Trafficking doesn't promote terrorism, however government created black markets do promote trafficking which is in turn, a way for terrorists to make money.

Please look at the whole picture and don't fall for the partial truths the government is so fond of.

By GlassAxe — On Dec 27, 2010

@ Istria- you have done well summarizing the requirements to become a special agent, but there is also the very important step of DEA special agent training.

DEA special agent training is a 16-week experience that deals with ethics and human relations among other things. A special agent in training will need to learn how to write reports, learn laws, recognize drugs, and use information systems. This is all done as a resident. The trainee will also need 120+ hours of firearms training that goes beyond the standard side arm. You will need to learn marksmanship, tactical weapons training, and how to decide when deadly force is necessary. There is also an extensive training period on how to deal with different arrest scenarios. This training includes physical training and combat training. Throughout the training, trainees will also need to apply what they have learned during drills an exercises designed to test their capabilities.

By istria — On Dec 24, 2010

@ Comparables- I am not sure if your family history would bar you from becoming a special agent. Your family history may be seen as an asset or a liability. It all depends on how your initial interview of qualifications, written and oral exams, and panel interview goes. The DEA is the premier law enforcement agency that deals with drug crimes so you will need to be very qualified. You will need at least a 3.0 or higher GPA in a field desirable to the agency. You should pursue your degree in law, criminal justice, foreign languages or finance since money laundering is a big part of their investigations.

You will also need to pass a drug screening, medical examination, physical task test and a polygraph. This process can take longer than nine months and requires a great deal of commitment, but if you are successful, you will likely be offered a position as an entry-level special agent.

By Comparables — On Dec 23, 2010

What are the DEA Special Agent Requirements? I am interested in pursuing a career with the agency but I don't know where to begin. My father was tied up in the drug world, and I hate what drug trafficking and traffickers have done to my family. I want to do whatever I can to stop people like him and my friends. My mother and father have long been divorced and my father is in jail now, but it took him thirty years of his life to figure out that there is nothing but tragedy at the end of the ride for drug traffickers. I want to stop the death and pain that this brings. Will these family ties prevent me from being a DEA special agent?

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