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GetSmart About Drugs - A DEA Resource for Parents

News Release
April 30, 1999


The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will open a brand new museum to the public on May 11, 1999. The DEA Museum and Visitors Center located in the lobby of DEA Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia features an exhibit, "Illegal Drugs in America: A Modern History," which provides a historical overview of one of our nation's worst problems. Beginning with the 19th century and coming right up to the present, the 2,200 square foot museum documents the perils of the drug culture, and explains the past successes of federal drug law enforcement and the current challenges facing the United States.

According to DEA Administrator Thomas A. Constantine, "The museum and visitors center is dedicated to the men and women of law enforcement who have come before, those who will follow, and to the American families who have suffered the deadly effects of drugs throughout the twentieth century,"

"This is the first museum in America which traces the impact that drugs have had on American society and the efforts by federal law enforcement to combat this growing problem. Our hope is that each and every parent and teacher who brings a child into the museum will take the opportunity to talk to their kids about drugs. Law enforcement alone cannot solve the drug problem. Research shows us that we can make a difference when we talk to our kids." he added.

The museum tells the story of drugs in the twentieth century through striking images of undercover agents, drug users--famous and unknown, and notorious criminals. On display is a wide range of rare and unusual artifacts ---old opium smoking pipes, 'Bayer' heroin bottles, a circa 1920 federal drug agent's Tommy gun, undercover agent outfits including a fur coat and gravity defying green platform snakeskin shoes worn by a male agent, a wooden booby trap from a marijuana field in Thailand, a limegreen surfboard which had been used to conceal drugs being smuggled into the country and such seized items as a drug trafficker's diamond-encrusted gun and a shiny $35,000 Hell's Angel's chrome-plated Harley Davison motorcycle from Salem, Massachusetts.

The museum exhibits are presented in chronological order. America had its first drug epidemic early this century and successfully addressed it. This story is told in the first two parts of the exhibit: AMERICA'S FIRST DRUG EPIDEMIC 1850-1914 and ENFORCING THE NEW DRUG LAWS 1919-1950's. When the 20th century began, the United States--grappling with its first drug epidemic-- gradually instituted effective restrictions, at home through domestic law enforcement, and overseas by spearheading a world movement to limit opium poppy and coca crops. By the Second World War, American drug use had become so rare, it was seen as a marginal social problem.

When the huge youthful middle-class began using and trafficking in drugs in the 1960s and 1970s, the drug problem exploded. A decade later those who paid the biggest price were the poor, especially crack addicts and their communities. The second and third sections of the exhibit tell that story: RISE OF THE MODERN DRUG CULTURE 1960's and 1970's and RETURN OF COCAINE & RISE OF THE CARTELS 1970's and 1980's.

During the 1960s, marijuana, and new drugs like amphetamine, and psychedelics came on the scene, and a new generation--the baby boomers--with no recollection of the first epidemic--embraced drugs and spawned a drug culture like America had never seen before. This Middle-class espousal helped illegal drugs penetrate communities all over the country where they had never been before.

In the 1970s, cocaine reappeared, and then in the 1980s came crack, relatively cheap and highly addictive, spreading addiction and violence at epidemic levels in our poorest and most depressed communities. De-stigmatizing drug use had catastrophic consequences, especially for those communities, which became centers of the drug trade and were featured routinely on the nightly news. With the drug problem exploding, our government struggled to keep up. In 1973, DEA was created as the lead federal drug law enforcement agency combining law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies in the fight against drugs.

Today violent Colombian and Mexican drug mafias headquartered outside of the U.S. control most drug trafficking in this country. The DEA is active overseas and at home fighting these powerful criminal organizations. THE DEA TODAY section of the exhibit depicts DEA's current biggest challenge-- the dramatic change in organized crime. Where once American criminals controlled drug trafficking here, today it is ruthless, powerful foreign drug syndicates based in Colombia and Mexico.

In addition, the museum features three interactive kiosks loaded with more than two hours worth of videos, still photos, and audio clips making a high tech presentation of information on five major drugs -- heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, LSD and other hallucinogens. The kiosks also include animated charts and graphs showing the latest statistics on drugs and drug trafficking, audio clips from DEA administrators discussing common questions about drug use and drug law enforcement, a video archive of popular anti-drug PSAs from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and an overview video on DEA's current programs and divisions. With their ability to be updated on a regular basis the kiosks add a dynamic dimension to the museum.

And finally, there is a mini-theater and a small gift shop operated by the Association of Former Federal Narcotics Agents (AFFNA).

Construction and design costs for the museum totaled $349,000 which was funded through Congressional appropriations with artifacts donated by AFFNA members and countless individuals involved in drug law enforcement. The museum will be open to the public by appointment only. Reservations can be made by calling the museum office at 202-307-3463.

The Museum and Visitors Center at 700 Army Navy Drive, Arlington, Virginia (Pentagon City) will be open for press previews May 4-7. All accredited press are welcome. Please call 202-307-7977 in order to make arrangements for your tour.

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