'It is more terrifying now than I’ve ever seen': DEA agents needed amid spike in meth, fentanyl trafficking

We hear too often about the number of drugs, specifically, meth and fentanyl, flooding into our country, and it's reaching record levels.

Because of this, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is looking to hire thousands of new agents across the country and is hoping to get the upper hand in the war against drugs and help save lives.

Cheri Oz is the special agent in charge at the DEA Phoenix field division, and says, "We are the premier drug enforcement agency in the world."

While out at the gun range with the DEA's special response team, she says, "This is the best job in the world."

She and the team of tactical operators spent the day in Marana sharpening and mastering their skills.

"They’re out on the range building camaraderie, they’re sharing some teamwork and shooting some targets," Oz said.

'It is more terrifying now than I’ve ever seen’

The illegal drug market is forever evolving and these agents have to adapt along with it. Just a few years ago, DEA agents say cartels and dealers would smuggle tons of marijuana across our southern borders, but now that states have started legalizing it, they’re seeing a major shift as it’s now all about meth and fentanyl.

The popularity is skyrocketing, as it’s easier to produce, transport and hide. Sadly, it’s more addictive and deadly.

"The difference is now with these precursor chemicals coming from China and with these super labs manufacturing synthetic fentanyl, synthetic methamphetamine, we are looking at an unquantifiable amount of drugs that are focused right here in Arizona and coming right into our backyard. It is more terrifying now than I’ve ever seen," Oz said.

In 2020, Arizona’s branch of the DEA seized around six million fentanyl pills. In 2021, that number doubled to 12 million. Just within the first four months of 2022, they’ve already had more than four million pills.

When asked if this is the busiest the DEA has ever been, Oz replies saying, "This is, yes. It’s more terrifying now I think than in 25 years of law enforcement that I’ve ever seen."

Intense process for potential future DEA agents

Because of that spike in drugs, they’re looking to hire thousands of special agents for positions across the world. The application process is intense and needs to be taken seriously as starting the application to being fully trained and on the job takes about a year, the DEA says.

"Next year we plan to have eight special agent academy classes and in each class, we have 54 basic agent trainees and so our goal is to try to fill every vacant special agent position within DEA in the next few years," explains Melissa Lee, a special agent recruiter with the DEA Phoenix field division.

The first step in the job application process is the physical fitness test, and about 60-70% of the applicants actually fail it.

FOX 10's Stephanie Bennett was put to the actual test.

"We are going to administer the DEA's physical fitness test. It’s a four-part test involving sit-ups, push-ups, a 300-meter sprint and a mile and a half," Lee explained. "It’s not a test that you can just come out and expect to pass without practicing. Each applicant must obtain at least one point in each of the four categories with a commutative score of 12 or higher in order to pass."

If an applicant fails, they can come back in 60 days and try again. If approved, they’ll move on to the next steps of the application process.

"Phase two is a written assessment. Phase three is a panel interview and then we move onto a polygraph a medical and a psychological assessment and somewhere in that last phase, a background investigation is conducted," Lee said.

After that, you’ll head to their training facilities in Quantico, and then be fully qualified.

"To become a special agent, we are looking for people who want to be part of something bigger than themselves. This is about the mission and about saving lives. We are looking for people with integrity, with courage, with work ethic," Oz said. "Second, we are fun, we are a family, and we take care of each other."

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More information about becoming a DEA agent can be found here: https://www.dea.gov/careers/special-agent/local-recruiter