The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Museum takes visitors on an exploration of the country’s history of drug use and misuse as well as the agency’s law enforcement role. Opened in 1999, the museum closed in July 2019 for a complete renovation of its 500,000-square-foot-plus facility into a more colorful, contemporary, and engaging space. The renovations were expected to last just over a year but with the pandemic closures and restrictions, the museum opened its doors back up in November.
Guests are brought into the DEA world thanks to a focus on the people and their experiences in working with the agency. There are more than 180 artifacts on display and patrons learn more about the various roles of DEA agents and employees. The DEA was established in 1973 under President Richard Nixon’s administration. The museum explores the journey leading to the DEA’s founding, including predecessor agencies as well as a focus on current and future work. The impact of drug use on American lives is also explored through a number exhibits, including the science of cocaine, marijuana, opium, and synthetic drug addition.
The museum actually grew out of an agent’s collection of an assortment of narcotics law enforcement badges. Two decades later, several DEA staff members decided to put the badges in an exhibit space in the agency’s home, discussing the history of substance misuse and how the government agency and its predecessors addressed the issue.
While the subject matter can get heavy at times, the museum is for all ages. Patrons will find more than 40 hands-on activities including examining fingerprints, virtual missions, and inspecting artifacts as well as touch-screen timelines focusing on the evolution of drug law enforcement over the years. Kids can earn a Junior Special Agent badge by completing several challenges like letter scrambles and word searches designed to get them thinking like a DEA agent. Adults don’t have to miss out on the fun. They can become an Agent-for-the-Day through a simulation of a field operation taking on a house raid or an undercover drug buy. There is also an education room with distance learning technology available.
The Wall of Honor, a tribute to DEA agents killed in the line of duty, was also redesigned during the renovation. Located in the museum’s lobby, the new memorial is designed to be a serene and reflective place that is illuminated 24 hours a day. The spot features photos and newly commissioned portraits of every individual honored, with some dating back more than a century. An interactive kiosk allows patrons to learn more about each individual.
While the museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays, guests may visit Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (It is also closed for all federal holidays.) Admission is free but all visitors over the age of 18 will need to show a government-issued photo ID to enter the federal facility.
Located at 700 Army Navy Dr., Arlington, street parking is limited but guests may take advantage of the nearby Pentagon City parking garage.
The museum does not offer a food court area but its neighbors include a number of restaurants, grocery stores, and coffee shops where you can grab a bite to eat. If you park at the garage, you may want to eat at the Pentagon City Mall food court.
This story originally ran in our August issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.