DEA cracks down on pill presses in latest front in the fight against fentanyl

The Drug Enforcement Administration, as part of its efforts to combat the fentanyl crisis, has identified a way to hit drug traffickers in a practical way: by going after high speed pill press machines.

DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator Scott Oulton said these machines are capable of pumping out thousands of illegal pills an hour. Hundreds of those presses were seized by federal law enforcement in 2023.

“We seized these all over the U.S., whether it’s the basement, a warehouse, a home, a garage, a hotel room,” Oulton said.

In one bust, DEA agents seized several presses, along with 200,000 suspected fentanyl pills, in a duplex-turned-drug lab in New York City.

“In the last six months, we’ve seized pill presses in New York, in Massachusetts, in Mississippi, in Kentucky,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram told CBS News. “It’s an industrial machine.”

Milgram said many of the machines are purchased online, and now the DEA is cracking down, telling roughly 450 e-commerce sites to identify and report pill press purchases as required under federal law. Last month, eBay agreed to pay the Department of Justice $59 million — after the e-commerce site allegedly fell short of identifying and reporting pill press purchases.

“We have drug traffickers across the United States who are buying the pill presses,” Milgram said. “They have fentanyl and they’re using that fentanyl to make them into these fake pills.”

Drug dealers also buy fake punch kits and dyes, used to brand pills, allowing them to mimic real pills like oxycodone.

“What they do is they buy specific dyes and punch kits that have the markings that mimic pharmaceutical preparations,” Oulton said, noting the kits can be bought online and only cost about $40.

A New York State intelligence bulletin published on February 14 and obtained by CBS News assessed domestic drug traffickers “will likely increase domestic pill operations in the near term,” adding “the primary drivers for this increase will be cost effectiveness, profit potential, ease of production, and the ability to maintain a clandestine operation.”

The predicted increase could compound the ongoing crisis, which is memorialized at DEA headquarters’ Faces of Fentanyl wall, which displays the faces of those who have died from fentanyl overdoses.

The age range is striking. One victim was just 4 years old. James Cox, the oldest person on the wall, was 70.

Story by Nicole Sganga, CBS News

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Tags: Drug Trafficking DTO Opioid Crisis

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