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Everything you need to know about DEA numbers

The DEA number touches on almost all aspects of the American healthcare system.

DEA, Jun 25, 2021

Background and History

The Drug Enforcement Administration was established on July 1, 1973 as a result of the consolidation of several law enforcement agencies under President Nixon.

The original headquarters was located at 1405 I Street in Washington DC, but was moved to its current location at 600 Army Navy Drive in Arlington, Virginia across from the Pentagon.

The administrator of the DEA is appointed by the President, and reports to the Attorney General at the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).

The DEA currently has over 10,000 employees and an annual budget exceeding $3 billion.

Role as a regulatory agency

As a part of their responsibility in fighting illegal drug trafficking, the DEA also regulates many prescription drugs in America. This regulatory power centers around the DEA number.

Many of the drugs sold in the USA are designated as "controlled" by the DEA. These are generally drugs which have addictive and/or grey market value in the illegal drug trade. All entities and individuals handling controlled substances are covered under this regulation, and are required to register with the DEA. Upon approval, they are issued a unique DEA number.

Visit Wikipedia for more history and background on the DEA.

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Who are DEA Numbers For

DEA numbers are for the following types of organizations and individuals: Pharmacies, Hospitals, Practitioners (doctors), Teaching Institutions, Manufacturers, Distributors, Researchers, Analytical Labs, Importers, Exporters, Reverse Distributors, Mid-Level Practitioners (nurse practitioners and physician assistants), and Narcotic Treatment Programs.

Basically any entity or individual that handles, distributes, prescribes, or dispenses controlled substances must be registered. The DEA maintains a comprehensive list of controlled substances on their website.

Some examples of controlled drugs are: Valium (schedule IV), Oxycodone (schedule II), Methamphetamine (schedule II), Alprazolam (Xanax, schedule IV), Clonazepam (schedule IV), Testosterone (schedule III), Lyrica (schedule V), and Codeine (schedule II).

Illegal Drugs

Illegal drugs are mostly classified as schedule I. Examples include Mescaline, Heroin, Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), and Marijuana.

Some drugs generally considered illegal drugs however are not classified as schedule I - for example Cocaine is a schedule II drug.

More recently with the legalization of growing and sale of Marijuana, this schedule I drug is now legally sold and distributed at the state level. The drug however remains illegal at the federal level.

Non-Controlled Drugs

Some drugs are not controlled, and therefore not regulated by the DEA. They are however mostly regulated at the state level and still require a prescription. Drugs in this category include Prozac, Lipitor, and prescription strength Tylenol.

And many drugs are available without a prescription, like over the counter strength Tylenol or Aspirin.

What are DEA Numbers

DEA numbers consist of 2 letters followed by 7 numbers, and look like this example: AB1234567

The first letter generally corresponds to the registration type, and the second letter to the first letter of a physician's last name. With an increased number of pharmacy and physician registrations however, at some point this system was changed.

Types of Registrations

There are several types of DEA registrations. These are differentiated by their Business Activity Code (BAC).

Registration TypeBAC
Teaching InstitutionD
Analytical LabH
Reverse DistributorL
Mid-Level PractitionerM
Narcotic Treatment ProgramN P R S T U

The Secret DEA Verification Checksum Formula

There is a method built into the DEA number to manually check if it is valid.

The second letter of the number should correspond to the first letter of the physician's last name, or the first letter of the organization name. But also due to the volume of DEA numbers issued this isn't always the case.

The last digit is called the checksum, and the following formula should be used to test the checksum:

Step 1: Add together the first, third, and fifth digits.

Step 2: Add the second, fourth, and sixth digits - then multiply the total by 2.

Step 3: Add the results of step 1 and 2 together.

The last digit of this number should be the same as the last digit of the DEA number. If it is, then the number is valid.

Data Waiver Registrations or "X-DEA" Numbers

There is a special class of DEA number for physicians authorized to prescribe Suboxone as a part of drug treatment programs targeting opioid addiction.

Only doctors who obtain special approval are allowed to prescribe this drug. And their approvals are limited to 3 levels based on the maximum number of patients they are allowed to treat. The 3 maximum patient levels are 30, 100, and 275.

Doctors who are authorized to prescribe Suboxone have a special "X-DEA" number, which is the same as their regular number, except that the first letter starts with "X".

Where and When are DEA Numbers Used?

DEA numbers are checked by employers of physicians to insure they are registered to prescribe controlled drugs. This is a regular part of the credentialing of physicians by employers.

As defined by the Joint Commission - Credentialing is the process of obtaining, verifying, and assessing the qualifications of a practitioner to provide care or services in or for a health care organization. Credentials are documented evidence of licensure, education, training, experience, or other qualifications.

DEA numbers are also validated by pharmacies when filling prescriptions, primarily for the purpose of preventing fraud and prescription drug abuse.

Distributors and manufacturers and other organizations are also required to validate DEA numbers when shipping controlled drugs, to verify that the recipient is authorized to receive shipment.

Validation of DEA numbers

The Controlled Substances Act Database

The DEA makes their database available to currently active registrants and approved healthcare organizations.

Those registrants who download the data however are limited to either credentialing or validation, and are bound by a strict data use agreement not to resell or redistribute the data.

This dataset contains every currently active DEA number in the USA and its territories, over 1.9 million records. The database is quite large and generally requires experienced IT people to work with it.

The fields in the database are as follows: DEA number, Business Activity Code, Drug Schedule, Expiration Date, Name, Additional Company Name, Address 1, Address 2, City, State, Zip, Business Activity Sub Code, Payment Indicator, and Status.

DEA License Lookup

DEA License Lookup desktop software is a secure, compliant, and flexible option for searching the DEA database in compliance with the new DEA data rules.

It allows one at a time flexible searching of the DEA registrations. Customers can search by name, by DEA number, by address, and more.

This software is available for use by registrants and approved entities with access to the DEA database.

The software is intuitive and easy to use for non-technical users, allowing them to easily credential and verify DEA registrations.

Credentialing Verification Organizations

A Credentialing Verification Organization or CVO is an organization that conducts primary source verification of practitioner credentials for other organizations.

They can research and/or monitor all aspects of a doctor's credentials, or even a large list of doctors.

The NCQA is an accrediting organization that certifies CVOs.

Pre-Internet Validation

Before the internet, it was common practice to call a doctor's office and request a faxed copy of a physician's DEA certificate as proof of registration.

While this can still work in a low volume environment, in most situations it is simply too time consuming and costly to be a workable solution. It can be difficult to reach someone in a doctor's office even during business hours - but many doctors are also much more reluctant to fax out of a copy of their registration to someone they don't know for fear of their DEA number getting into the wrong hands.

How to obtain a DEA number

Organizations and individuals can apply for a DEA number at the Diversion Control Division of the Department of Justice.

Your registered address must be the physical location of your principal place of business or professional practice. It can take four to six weeks to process a new application.

You can apply for a DEA number here. If you have questions about registrations, they also have a Registration Q & A.

How much does a DEA number Cost?

The DEA raised their fees in 2020. For most registrations the 3 year cost is $888. For manufacturers and other organizations however, the fees are annual and substantially higher.

Gaps in the system

The DEA registration system is designed to regulate all individuals and organizations who handle controlled drugs.

Most interestingly, while pharmacies are required to have a DEA registration, the individuals who physically fill the prescriptions - the pharmacists - are not required to have a DEA number.

Additionally, newly graduated doctors who are practicing in hospitals as interns and writing prescriptions are also not required to have a DEA number. They can use their hospital DEA number with an extra identifying code for the prescription instead.

As each hospital has their own internal code system, these codes are not possible to validate or credential - certainly not in any automated way.

Other registration numbers

The two most important additional identifying numbers in the healthcare industry are the state license number and the NPI number.

State License Numbers

All 50 states also regulate physicians and healthcare organizations. The licensing requirements vary significantly from state to state.

To validate these numbers, there are over 130 separate databases for validating state license numbers just for physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. It can be quite a maze to navigate.

NPI number

The NPI is a unique identification number for covered health care providers, and was established under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The database is managed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

The NPI number is a 10 digit number. There are over 6.5 million distinct NPI numbers issued, and a far wider range of individuals and organizations can obtain an NPI number.

This number replaces the old UPIN number, and is primarily used as a unique identifying number for insurance and Medicare/Medicaid processing.

Other resources

Wikipedia: DEA Number
United States Department of Justice
Diversion Control Division of the Department of Justice

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