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DEA warns e-commerce companies about sale of pill presses used to make fentanyl pills

Agency states that device allows cartels to create fakes that look like prescription medication

Law enforcement seized 85,000 fentanyl pills in November 2022 in Whatcom and Snohomish counties.
Law enforcement seized 85,000 fentanyl pills in November 2022 in Whatcom and Snohomish counties. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration warns that drug traffickers are using pill presses sold by e-commerce companies to shape deadly fentanyl pills. (Photo courtesy of DEA Seattle Field Division)
By Isaac Stone Simonelli Enterprise/Investigations Reporter

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued a letter of warning on Monday, Feb. 26 to e-commerce companies that sell pill presses due to the device’s role in the deadly fentanyl epidemic sweeping the nation.

Drug traffickers, mostly connected to the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Cartel, use pill presses to shape fentanyl powder into pills, imprinting with markings and logos on them with the device, according to a release by the DEA.

With those tools, it is possible for bad actors to create pills that appear to be legitimate prescription medications — like oxycodone, Xanax and Adderall — but are not. Instead, they contain fentanyl and other deadly drugs, the release states.

Testing done by the DEA in 2023 showed that 7 out of 10 pills examined contained a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl, an increase from 4 out of 10 pills in 2021.

More than 110,000 Americans were killed by drug poisonings in 2022. About 70% of those involved fentanyl, according to a DEA news release. 

In 2022, more than 90 people died of drug overdose in Whatcom County. That number climbed to 136 probable overdose deaths in 2023. Earlier this year, two people died in a span of three days in the Lummi Nation. Both the Lummi Nation and Whatcom County Council have called on state and federal governments to declare fentanyl emergencies.

“Drug traffickers are killing Americans by selling fentanyl hidden in fake pills made to look like real prescription medicines. This is possible because drug traffickers are able to buy the tools they need, like pill presses and stamps, online,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in the release.

“E-commerce platforms cannot turn a blind eye to the fentanyl crisis and to the sale of pill presses on their platforms,” she continued. “They must do their part to protect the public, and when they do not, DEA will hold them accountable.”

The letter to e-commerce platforms underlines their responsibility, as required by law, to collect and report information on pill press buyers and sellers, as well as to provide notice to the DEA of any sale, import, export or transfer of the device.

The DEA’s Industry Liaison Project, launched in 2019, engaged with more than two dozen e-commerce companies, websites and domain registrars about the sale of pill presses. 

“In response to this outreach, several companies — including Amazon and Etsy — banned the sale of pill presses and stamps altogether and removed these products from their websites,” the release stated.

Isaac Stone Simonelli is CDN’s enterprise/investigations reporter; reach him at; 360-922-3090 ext. 127.

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