DEA Enforcement Continues to Decline in FY 2024
(16 May 2024) The government reported 4,356 new prosecutions that resulted from cases referred by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) during the first six months of FY 2024. According to case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), the pace of new prosecutions is down six (6) percent compared to the previous fiscal year. DEA referrals to federal prosecutors have similarly been declining.

This downward trend is a continuation of patterns that have lasted for a number of years. Compared to five years ago, prosecutions resulting from DEA-led investigations are down 33.5 percent. The pace of DEA referrals to federal prosecutors has also dropped by almost half since FY 2004.

A federal “war on drugs” declared by President Nixon led to the creation of DEA to combat illicit drug trafficking. This began a period of increasing federal criminal enforcement of the nation’s drug laws. However, federal priorities shifted following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and federal referrals from DEA began to decline. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting partial shutdown of the federal government in March of 2020 disrupted federal investigations and prosecution activity.

This also significantly impacted the processing of DEA enforcement referrals by federal prosecutors. A sharp increase in the length of time it takes for DEA referrals to move through the system has occurred. Indeed, while the average case in FY 2019 took 635 days to process through conviction and sentencing after referral climbed 54 percent to 975 days on average in FY 2023. Although processing times are still elevated so far during the first six months of FY 2024, they fell slightly to an average of 934 days.

Results reported are based on detailed case-by-case government records obtained by TRAC under court order after successful litigation against the U.S. Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act.

TRAC is a self-supporting, nonpartisan, and independent research organization specializing in data collection and analysis on federal enforcement, staffing, and spending. We produce multiple reports every month on critical issues, and we also provide comprehensive data analysis tools.
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