DEA Cracks Down on Internet Pill Press Sales

The DEA issued a letter Monday directed at online retailers selling pill presses, informing them that they are required to report sales of these presses to the DEA.

According to the DEA, pill presses are commonly used to disguise the deadly opioid fentanyl by replicating existing prescription medications. These replicated pills are then sold to people who are typically unaware they’re buying fentanyl. These pill presses are incredibly easy to find online and sell for as little as 40 dollars. This, in part, has fueled a scourge of overdoses in the last several years, 110,757 in 2022 alone by the DEA’s count.

“With these tools, criminal actors are able to produce pills that look like legitimate prescription medication—like oxycodone, Xanax, and Adderall—but are not,” the DEA said. “Those pills actually contain fentanyl and other deadly drugs.  Criminals then sell those pills on social media and in our communities, often to people who do not know that the pills are not real or that they contain deadly drugs.”

The DEA implicitly stated that pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act, e-commerce retailers responsible for selling these pill presses are required to keep records of everybody who buys and sells a press, and also required to report this information to the DEA.

“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.  E-commerce entities selling pill press machines are generally ‘regulated persons’ under the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 802(38), and therefore, subject to the recordkeeping, identification, and reporting requirements of 21 U.S.C. § 830,” the DEA said. “As regulated entities, e-commerce platforms are required to comply with CSA recordkeeping and reporting requirements on the distribution, importation, and exportation of pill press machines.  This means that they must collect information on the buyer and seller and provide notice to the DEA of any sale, import, export, or transfer.”

The DEA said that the vast majority of these fake pills are produced by two particular Mexican cartels. The United States government has put increasing pressure on Mexico in recent years to curb the flow of fentanyl, including fentanyl disguised in these fake pills, from crossing over the United States Mexico border. Even after signs were posted all over Sinaloa appearing to ban the production and sale of fentanyl by the authority of the cartels, fentanyl overdoses and seizures have not slowed down at all.

“The drug cartels primarily responsible for manufacturing fentanyl and smuggling it into the United States are the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Cartel.  These cartels, their members and associates, and other drug traffickers are using pill presses to shape fentanyl powder into pills, and they are using stamps to imprint markings and logos onto those pills as they are pressed,” the DEA said.

According to the DEA, over 79 million fake fentanyl-containing pills were seized in 2023, which marked a 33% increase over pill seizures in 2022. DEA lab tests have shown that 70% of seized pills are pressed and contain fentanyl. Seventy percent of all drug overdoses in 2022 were also due to ingestion of fentanyl.

“Drug traffickers are killing Americans by selling fentanyl hidden in fake pills made to look like real prescription medicines. This is possible because drug traffickers are able to buy the tools they need, like pill presses and stamps, online,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “E-commerce platforms cannot turn a blind eye to the fentanyl crisis and to the sale of pill presses on their platforms.  They must do their part to protect the public, and when they do not, DEA will hold them accountable.”

The DEA said that they launched the Industry Liaison Project in 2019, in which they communicated with over two dozen of the largest online retailers about pill press sales on their websites. They said that several, including Amazon and Etsy, banned the sale of pill presses on their platforms outright. However, as the hyperlink I included at the top of this article proves, dozens and dozens of pill presses are very much still for sale on Amazon. I also found several pill presses for sale on Etsy with about five seconds of effort on Google.

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