EBay Reaches $59 Million Settlement Over Pill Presses Sold Online Amid Opioid Epidemic

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E-commerce giant eBay has agreed to pay $59 million to resolve allegations that the company violated the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in connection with thousands of pill press machines that were sold on the platform, the Department of Justice announced on Jan. 31.

The San Jose, California-headquartered company also agreed to enhance its compliance program as part of the settlement, the DOJ said.

Wednesday’s multi-million-dollar settlement stems from allegations by the DOJ that the online retailer, since 2015, failed to comply with many of the CSA requirements or adequately monitor thousands of pill presses and encapsulating machines that were sold through its website.

They include high-capacity pill presses capable of producing thousands of pills per hour, according to the DOJ.

According to prosecutors, the pill press devices can be used by criminals to make counterfeit drugs—including pills laced with fentanyl—which often appear indistinguishable from legitimate pharmaceutical drugs and have helped fuel the nation’s opioid epidemic.

Prosecutors said eBay also failed to verify the identities of people who bought the pill-making machines, as required under the CSA.

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They further claimed the online retailer failed to conduct required record keeping, or report transactions involving the machines to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as is also required under the act.

Pill Press Buyers Linked to Drug Trafficking

Additionally, the DOJ said an investigation had found that hundreds of eBay’s pill press buyers also purchased counterfeit molds, stamps, or dies, which allowed them to “produce pills that mimicked the products of legitimate pharmaceutical companies,” and that “many of eBay’s pill press buyers have been successfully prosecuted in connection with trafficking illegal counterfeit pills.”

“Counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl are a significant contributor to the deadly overdose epidemic,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, chair of the DOJ’s Opioid Epidemic Civil Litigation Task Force.

“The Department is committed to using all available enforcement measures to ensure that companies involved in selling the equipment that makes it possible to create these dangerous pills comply with the Controlled Substances Act,” the assistant attorney general added.

Retailer eBay denied any wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement, which comes amid the deadliest overdose crisis in U.S. history.

From 2016 to 2021, drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl—a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine—more than tripled across the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An Ontario Provincial Police officer displays bags containing fentanyl during a news conference in Vaughan, Ont., Canada, on Feb. 23, 2017. (The Canadian Press/Chris Young)
An Ontario Provincial Police officer displays bags containing fentanyl during a news conference in Vaughan, Ont., Canada, on Feb. 23, 2017. (The Canadian Press/Chris Young)

US Drug Overdoses Rise

Meanwhile, more than 100,000 deaths were linked to drug overdoses in 2022, according to the health agency, and over two-thirds of those involved fentanyl or similar synthetic drugs.

In announcing Wednesday’s settlement, DEA Administrator Anne Milgram noted fentanyl is killing Americans at unprecedented rates.

“EBay and other e-commerce platforms must do their part to protect the public. And when they do not, DEA will hold them accountable,” Ms. Milgram said.

Wednesday’s settlement also requires eBay to maintain and enhance policies on items banned from sale, and adopt a new policy governing the sales of pill presses as well as counterfeit molds, stamps and dies, and encapsulating machines, which are used to fill pills.

EBay will have to report on its compliance measures to the Justice Department for three years.

In a statement to multiple media outlets, a spokesperson for eBay denied the allegations made by the DOJ and said it had agreed to pay the settlement in order to avoid heavy litigation costs.

Still, the e-commerce giant vowed to ensure compliance with the CSA.

“Maintaining a safe and trusted marketplace for our global community of sellers and buyers is a fundamental principle of our business,” the spokesperson said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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