DEA warns e-commerce firms on tablet press sales

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has issued a letter to e-commerce companies, reminding them of their obligations on the sale of tablet presses, which can be used to make illicit medicines.

The move comes more than three years after the DEA launched an outreach programme targeting online retailers that sell equipment like pill presses and the die punches used to emboss them with markings, pointing out they are sued to make counterfeit copies of prescription medicines that can be laced with ultra-strong opioids like fentanyl.

In response, several companies – including Amazon and Etsy – banned the sale of pill presses and stamps altogether and removed these products from their websites.

In 2022, approximately 111,000 Americans were killed by drug poisonings – almost twice the number of deaths recorded five years ago. More than two-thirds (70 per cent) involved fentanyl, according to the DEA, which says that the Sinaloa and Jalisco drug cartels are primarily responsible for manufacturing fentanyl and smuggling it into the US.

“As regulated entities under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), e-commerce platforms are generally required to comply with CSA recordkeeping, identification, and reporting requirements on the distribution, importation, and exportation of pill press machines, says the agency in its letter.

The warning letters were sent out shortly after eBay paid $59 million to settle allegations from the Department of Justice that it assisted in the sale of pill presses and encapsulating machines, allowing thousands of the devices to be sold on its website. Some of those machines were subsequently sold to individuals who were later convicted of drug-related crimes.

Last year, the DEA seized over 79 million fake pills containing fentanyl, a greater than 33 per cent increase from the year before – and lab testing currently suggests that seven out of 10 pills contain a potentially deadly dose of the opioid.

“DEA has found that pill presses and stamps that can be used to make fentanyl pills are being offered for sale on various e-commerce platforms,” said the agency. 

“E-commerce entities selling pill press machines are generally ‘regulated persons’ under the [CSA] and therefore, subject to the recordkeeping, identification, and reporting requirements” of the legislation. 

“E-commerce platforms cannot turn a blind eye to the fentanyl crisis and to the sale of pill presses on their platforms,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “They must do their part to protect the public, and when they do not, DEA will hold them accountable.”

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