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Definition of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): Every prescription written in the United States bears a DEA number, that of the prescribing doctor, the DEA being the Drug Enforcement Administration of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Historically, the DEA's roots go back to the founding in 1930 of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. During World War II, international drug trafficking was effectively suppressed in the U.S. and many addicts sought paregoric, an anti-diarrheal containing powdered opium. The heroin shortage resulted in a rise of thefts from pharmacies, hospitals, and other sources of legitimate drugs. And for the first time, barbiturates became recognizable as a potential drug abuse problem.

The U.S. Congress in 1970 passed the comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, which replaced more than 50 pieces of drug legislation. Title II of the Act, known as the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), gave Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce for drugs. It also established five schedules that classify controlled substances according to their potential for abuse. Drugs were placed into categories according to how dangerous they were, how great their potential for abuse, and whether they have any legitimate medical value. Under the CSA the DEA licenses individual physicians to prescribe drugs for medical purposes.

This entry is based in part upon information from the DEA of the United States of America.

Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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