EBay will pay $59 million settlement over pill presses sold online as US undergoes overdose epidemic

WASHINGTON (AP) — The e-commerce giant eBay will pay $59 million in a settlement with the Justice Department over thousands of pill press machines sold on the the platform.

The machines can be used to manufacture counterfeit pills that look just like prescription pills but instead can be laced with substances like fentanyl, a synthetic opioid drug that is largely fueling the deadliest overdose crisis in U.S. history. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sellers of pharmaceutical manufacturing equipment are required to verify buyers’ identities, keep records, and report to the Drug Enforcement Administration to make sure the machines are traceable and not used illegally.

The Justice Department says eBay failed to meet those requirements for thousands of pill presses and pill-filling encapsulating machines, including high-capacity pill presses capable of producing thousands of pills per hour.

The company, which provides a platform for people to make their own online sales, maintained in a settlement agreement that it is not subject to those reporting requirements.

In hundreds of cases, pill-press buyers also bought counterfeit molds or dies that allowed them to make pills mimicking legitimate prescription pills, authorities said. Many people who bought pill presses on eBay have since been charged in illegal counterfeit pills trafficking cases, according to the Justice Department.

“Counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl are a significant contributor to the deadly overdose epidemic,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.

More than 100,000 deaths were linked to drug overdoses in 2022, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and over than two-thirds of those involved fentanyl or similar synthetic drugs. The crisis at first centered on prescription painkillers that gained more acceptance in the 1990s, and later heroin. Over the past decade, the death toll has reached an all-time high, and the biggest killers have been synthetic opioids such as fentanyl that are in the supply of many street drugs.

“Through its website, eBay made it easy for individuals across the country to obtain the type of dangerous machines that are often used to make counterfeit pills,” said U.S. Attorney Nikolas Kerest of Vermont.

The company has agreed to step up its compliance program on sales of pill presses as well as counterfeit molds, stamps and dies, and encapsulating machines, which are used to fill pills.

The company’s failure to follow “basic reporting and record keeping requirements” allowed people to “set up pill factories in their homes and to do so without detection,” said U.S. Attorney Henry Leventis for the Middle District of Tennessee.

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