eBay has agreed to pay $59 million to settle a U.S. government probe into its alleged failure to control sales of equipment that drug dealers and counterfeiters could use to make fentanyl and fake pills containing the synthetic opioid.
Settlement Addresses Lax Oversight of Pill Press Sales
The settlement comes as the nation struggles with rising opioid abuse and overdoses. According to federal prosecutors, between 2014 and 2020 eBay’s lax oversight enabled the sale of around 15,000 pill presses and related equipment on its site.
eBay failed to take reasonable steps to stop these sales or warn buyers the equipment should not be used to make fentanyl or fake pharmaceuticals. The online sales giant will now have to implement a much stricter verification process before such equipment can be sold.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the Justice Deparment “cannot allow online marketplaces, like eBay, to turn a blind eye while dangerous drug paraphernalia is sold over the internet.” She characterized the pill presses and parts as “industrial-grade equipment destined to fuel the tragic opioid crisis plaguing our communities.”
How Pill Presses Contributed to the Opioid Epidemic
Pill presses enable users to create counterfeit pharmaceuticals containing fentanyl and similar synthetic opioids. Such counterfeits are driving overdose deaths in the U.S. to catastrophic levels.
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released provisional data showing more than 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2021. That translates to roughly one overdose death every 5 minutes.
Experts say many users don’t even realize they are taking fentanyl or other synthetic opioids. Illicit pills containing such substances are made to look like legitimate prescription medications such as oxycodone or hydrocodone.
eBay Criticized for Enabling Pill Press Sales
The settlement comes after members of Congress sharply criticized eBay for failing to crack down on equipment sales that could exacerbate the opioid crisis.
U.S. Senator Rob Portman, co-chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, called out eBay for irresponsible management that “unquestionably cost lives.” He said “eBay sold these pill presses with impunity for years” despite warnings.
Details of the Settlement
Under terms of the agreement, eBay has committed to spending $30 million on training and cooperating with law enforcement to prevent illegal use of the ecommerce platform. The company will also adopt much stricter sale standards around pill presses and related equipment.
In the future, any eBay merchant wanting to sell a pill press will have to demonstrate they are properly licensed and the equipment will only be used for lawful purposes. eBay will also limit listings for pill press parts to better control what components enter the marketplace.
The $59 million settlement includes $30 million for new compliance measures and $29 million paid to the government. If eBay fails to adhere to terms of the agreement, it could face further financial penalties or even criminal prosecution.
What Comes Next
The Justice Department plans to continue cracking down on marketplaces that enable illegal distribution of pill presses and components. Regulators want online sellers like eBay, Amazon and Craigslist to take more responsibility for what ends up being sold on their platforms.
Experts say stemming the flow of pill presses into the hands of counterfeiters will be an important step in combatting the opioid epidemic. However, fully shutting down production of synthetic opioids also requires reducing demand. That means better access to drug treatment programs and tighter controls around distribution of legitimate pain medications.
This story will continue to develop as eBay implements changes required under the settlement agreement. There may also be increased Congressional scrutiny of online marketplaces to prevent them from facilitating illegal drug activity.
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