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People’s Action Members from Across the Country Expose the DEA’s Policies of Mass Harm Days Before 50th Anniversary of Agency Founding

ARLINGTON, Va.–Days before the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), People’s Action hosted a rally at the agency’s headquarters and museum. Participants demanded that the DEA divest from criminalization and end the failed war on drugs, and that it reinvest funds into compassionate and evidence-based care, housing, and services. 

“I went from working for the NFL to walking around Kensington and living in chaotic drug use. Some people use drugs to escape how painful reality feels and because it’s too painful to be sober,” New Jersey Organizing Project’s Not One More campaign member leader Elissa Tierney said. “The war on drugs has always been a war on people, the very people they say that want to help. Every overdose is a policy failure and I am sick of losing my friends.”

In front of a memorial wall commemorating loved ones who died from the failed policies of the war on drugs, participants shared how the DEA’s use of criminalization and mass incarceration hurts their communities. Participants delivered a letter outlining demands for the DEA, which included a meeting between People’s Action members and DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. At the same time as the rally, hundreds of People’s Action member leaders met with federal legislators to call for their opposition to the HALT Fentanyl Act and their support for the REENTRY Act

“Emeka was my caregiver, he would take care of me before he really got sick. He suffered from schizophrenia using without his medication because he couldn’t get it. The police chased him down and shot him 5 times. All upper body shots, shot in the eye, head, shoulder, and chest. Police thought he was someone who ‘fit the description.’ Thank God he survived,” VOCAL-TX and the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance member leader Carolyn Williams said. 

“Decades of evidence shows us that criminalization does nothing to stop drug use or curb overdose deaths,” People’s Action Drug Policy, Harm Reduction, and Criminal Justice Campaign Director Ellen Glover said. “After 50 years, instead of solving the problem, the DEA continues to cause harm while pushing ineffective, unscientific policies that kill our friends and family members, isolate and bar us from the care we need, and harm communities across the country.”  

The DEA spends over $3 billion annually of public dollars on criminalization and incarceration, both domestically and abroad. Despite this, overdose rates have continued to increase, topping 109,000 over the past year alone. Last winter, People’s Action Overdose Crisis Cohort helped pass the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment (MAT) Act, a law that will increase access to proven treatments for people with opioid use disorder. 

The action was part of People’s Action’s convention and one of four direct actions focused on issues impacting poor and working people, including housing, health care, climate, and the overdose crisis.

Photos and videos from the action may be found here.


People’s Action builds the power of poor and working people in urban, rural, and suburban areas to win change through issue fights and elections. We are a national network of 40 state and local grassroots power-building organizations in 29 states–united in the work of building a bigger “we.”

Contact: Johanna Kichton,, 202.660.0605

Press Contact
Johanna Kichton

(202) 660-0605

About People’s Action

People’s Action is a national network of 38 state and local grassroots, power-building organizations united in fighting for justice. Our organization recently released a vision for a national Homes Guarantee that has already prompted major legislation from champions including U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib. We operate the largest progressive rural organizing project in the country. Prior to endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, we completed a national forum series that The Nation called “the most in-depth, people-powered forum” of the 2020 cycle.”

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