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

WASHINGTON — E-commerce giant eBay will pay $59 million in a settlement with the Justice Department over thousands of pill-pressing 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 like 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 maintain legally required records, and many people who bought pill presses on eBay have been prosecuted in connection with the trafficking of illegal counterfeit pills, the Justice Department said.

Headquartered in San Jose, California, EBay offers people a platform to make their own online sales. It said it agreed to the settlement to avoid protracted litigation, but insisted it did not break the law.

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

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

Still, the Justice Department says there were thousands of cases of people buying pill presses on eBay, including high-capacity presses that could produce thousands of pills per hour. Hundreds of those buyers also received counterfeit molds or dies that they used to make pills that mimicked legitimate prescription pills, authorities said.

eBay failed to comply with requirements that sellers of pharmaceutical manufacturing equipment verify the identities of buyers, maintain records and report to the Drug Enforcement Administration to ensure the machines are traceable and not used illegally, federal prosecutors said.

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

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 100,000 drug overdose-related deaths in 2022, and more than two-thirds of them involved fentanyl or similar synthetic drugs. The crisis initially focused on prescription painkillers that became increasingly popular in the 1990s, and later on heroin. Over the past decade, the death toll has reached record highs, and the biggest killers are synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which are found in many street drugs.

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

The company has agreed to increase its compliance program for the sale of pill presses, counterfeit molds, punches and dies, and encapsulation machines, which are used to fill pills.

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