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How To Become A Narcotics Detective: Career & Salary Information

Some people hear narcotics and immediately become uncomfortable, nervous, or even triggered. While often holding negative connotations, the term narcotics has developed quite a reputation for itself in that it even has its division within law enforcement.

Narcotics detectives have worked to mitigate illegal narcotics' misuse, abuse, and sale.

To become a successful narcotics detective, you would need to ensure that you have sufficient and appropriate training, you apply for a role in the narcotics division, you would need to pass the background screenings and drug tests, and you need to gain the appropriate certification.

Let us take a deeper look into the lives and jobs of narcotics detectives.

What Is A Narcotics Detective?

Before we look at what a narcotics detective is, we need to look at what are narcotics. Narcotics are a class of drugs used to treat pain and are strong medical-grade medications. More often than not, narcotics can only be dispensed from a pharmaceutical body, doctor, or hospital, with a letter from your healthcare provider stating that you need this medication.

However, given these extremely strong drugs, people began stealing them and using them recreationally, creating life-threatening problems for themselves and others. Through addiction, drug dealing, and illegally transporting such drugs, it has spiraled greatly, warranting a need for a narcotics division within law enforcement.

But it is important to know that certain narcotics are not warranted as illegal, but the illegal distribution, transport, manufacture, and use without stringent permission is illegal. There are other drugs, however, that is considered completely illegal for all use.

With this new field of crime, comes a need for specialized and dedicated officers to handle and oversee that crimes surrounding narcotics do not overtake the country.

A narcotics detective is an officer of the law whose primary aim is to keep the community safe from the use and exposure to drugs and narcotic substances. Drugs and narcotics tend to include several other criminal activities including the formation of gangs, rivalries, and criminal territories which lead to heightened crime and loss of lives.

Not only do illegal drug and narcotics dealers seek to sell and manufacture their products, but they also develop feuds with those who seek to compete with them. Additionally, if someone becomes addicted to narcotics, not much can stand in the way of their addiction, and they will commit crimes and even murder to get their hands on the substance they use.

Narcotics detectives hold the role of preventing such drug-related crimes from occurring by stopping them at the source.

While narcotics refer specifically to opioids or drugs that have been produced from opium, the term in the criminal justice system is not just limited to such drugs but all drugs that have been produced or grown, distributed, and used illegally.

When used in excess, such drugs can lead to addiction and, even worse, death.

What Does A Narcotics Detective Do?

A narcotics detective works with other law enforcement agents to investigate and apprehend people suspected of or found to have actively been involved in the illegal production, distribution, sale, and use of narcotics.

The duties of a narcotics officer are varied and sometimes require them to be placed in compromised and risky situations. They may need to go undercover, they will be required to set up surveillance, and they will be required to work closely with the K-9 unit within the police force.

They also work together with other internal divisions from both state and federal departments to expand any searches and utilize resources for the best end of justice. Aside from fieldwork, narcotic detectives must also testify in court and present their case and findings to a judge and jury.

Steps To Become A Narcotics Detective

Step One: Obtain Qualifications

If you are hoping to pursue a career as a narcotics detective, you would first need to obtain the correct qualifications. The minimum requirement would be to obtain a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, criminology, or psychology.

Coursework that pertains specifically to pharmacology and psychology will prove to be beneficial in your career.

Step Two: Complete Training

Because the field of narcotics is a specialized field within the criminal justice system, all officers and detectives are required to complete specialized narcotic training from the specific state in which you are hoping to work.

You can contact the National Narcotics Officers Association to find out what training is available in your state.

Since being a detective is a senior role, you would need to complete this training when entering the narcotics division, or you would have completed this training when you became a narcotics officer.

You will be trained in specific skills such as working with informants, acquiring drug-specific knowledge, and gaining valuable intel on different cases.

Step Three: Complete The Background Assessments

While some states may require you to complete background checks and assessments before you go into training, fundamental tests must be completed successfully before you are even considered for candidacy.

These tests include a background test, a drug test, and a polygraph test. Candidacy may be removed if any of these tests come back with questionable results. If a potential candidate presents with even the slightest history of drug use, they will immediately be removed from consideration.

Step Four: Apply And Gain Experience

To obtain a role as a detective, you must start as an officer. You will then need to gain sufficient experience to apply for the role of a narcotics detective. Once your application is successful, you can begin fulfilling your duties.

What Degree Do You Need To Be A Narcotics Detective?

Having a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, with coursework directly related and relevant to the field of narcotics, will ensure you have great career prospects for the future and that you are a qualified candidate for the position of narcotics detective.

What Is The Average Salary For A Narcotics Detective?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for police and detectives was $66,020 in May 2021.

What Makes A Good Narcotics Detective?

Characteristics of honesty, integrity, accountability, and respect are traits that will get you far in the role of a narcotics detective. Additionally, because you are required to work with so many divisions, strong collaborative skills are required.

It is often found that in the narcotics division that the temptation around narcotics is extremely great. This is why police officers and detectives are thoroughly vetted to ensure that no unjust activities are being done internally.


What Traits Must You Have To Be A Narcotics Detective?

One of the most important requirements for a narcotic detective or a narcotics officer is to ensure that they have a clean background with no prior offenses and no drug history. Additionally, they must work well with dogs that are part of the K-9 unit as the dogs play an important role in drug investigations.

Are All Narcotics Bad?

No, narcotics are used for pain management in hospitals and other medical institutions. Only when there is a misuse of narcotics that members of law enforcement need to get involved.

What Is The Job Outlook For Narcotics Detectives?

According to the BLS, the job outlook for narcotics detectives is expected to see a 7% growth in the next decade which is in line with the average expected growth for all occupations.

Do You Need To Be Physically Fit To Be A Narcotics Detective?

From chasing, apprehending, and physically detaining criminals, narcotic detectives need to be physically fit and have high stamina. Should the need arise, they also need to be trained in weapons training and hand-to-hand combat.


Many people pursue a narcotic law enforcement role from a passion. In reality, many people lose loved ones to drug abuse, either directly or indirectly. Many have a passion to fight the scourge of illegal drugs in communities.

If you find yourself with this unwavering passion, this career path may be the one for you.

find criminal justice degrees near you

find criminal justice degrees near you