eBay will pay $59 million for pill presses sold on the site

E-commerce giant eBay will pay $59 million in a settlement with the Justice Department for thousands of pill-making machines sold on the platform, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

The machines can be used to produce counterfeit pills that look just like prescription pills but can instead be laced with substances such as fentanyl, a synthetic opioid drug that is largely fueling the deadliest overdose crisis in U.S. history.

The company failed to verify the identities of buyers and keep records required by law, and many people who bought pill presses on eBay have been prosecuted in connection with the illegal trafficking of counterfeit pills, the Justice Department said.

eBay, based in San Jose, California, provides a platform that allows people to make their own sales online. He said he agreed to the settlement to avoid long-running litigation, but maintained he had not broken the law.

The company said it independently removed pill-making equipment and blocked “tens of thousands” of listings before the Justice Department got involved.

“Government officials have repeatedly praised eBay for our cooperation with law enforcement and efforts to support investigations into illegal pill press use,” eBay said.

However, the Justice Department says there have been thousands of cases in which people have purchased pill presses on eBay, including high-capacity presses capable of producing thousands of pills per hour. Hundreds of these buyers also received counterfeit molds or matrices that allowed them to produce pills that mimicked legitimate prescription ones, authorities said.

Ebay failed to meet requirements that sellers of pharmaceutical manufacturing equipment verify buyers’ identities, keep records and report to the Drug Enforcement Administration to make sure the machines are traceable and not used illegally, federal prosecutors said .

“Counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl contribute significantly to the deadly overdose epidemic,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.

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

“Through its website, eBay has made it easy for people across the country to obtain the kind 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 capping machines, used to fill pills.

eBay’s failure to comply with “basic reporting and recordkeeping requirements” allowed people to “set up pill factories in their homes and do so without detection,” said U.S. Attorney Henry Leventis for the District central Tennessee.

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