When it comes to conversations about law enforcement in the United States, a topic that often stirs up a mix of opinions is the DEA’s controversial history. The Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, has been at the forefront of the country’s battle against illegal drugs since its inception in 1973. 

But with a mission as complex as this, it’s no surprise that the agency’s methods have sparked praise and criticism. The DEA had its own real-life drama filled with high-stakes pursuits, hard-won triumphs, and various challenges and controversies. 

Former agent Steve Murphy, one of the key figures in the downfall of Pablo Escobar (Wikimedia Commons)

Just what are the tactics that have sparked debate? How has the DEA contributed positively to society, and where has it stumbled? 

We’re about to get into the DEA’s controversial history, which continues to intrigue, perplex, and even polarize opinions nationwide.

A Bold Beginning: The Birth of the DEA

Let’s head back to the early ’70s. President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, and the DEA was born. 

From the get-go, the agency faced an incredible challenge: stopping the flow of illegal drugs across the country. It was a daunting mission that brought about the DEA’s controversial history.

Triumphs: Making a Mark

The DEA wasn’t shy about going after the big fish. High-profile arrests, massive seizures of drugs, and dismantling of criminal organizations became their calling cards. Some would call it a significant win for law and order.

The 1989 arrest of Carlos Lehder, a co-founder of the Medellín Cartel, showcased the DEA’s determination and international reach.