Pill Presses and our Opioid Epidemic

pills being made with a pill press

Unless you are a pharmacist or have a company manufacturing drugs or nutritional supplements, you’ve probably never given any thought to the idea of buying a pill press. In fact, you probably don’t know anyone with a pill press either. Then why are border agents seizing nineteen times as many pill presses now as they did in 2011?

It’s because in the last several years, it has become popular to make and distribute counterfeit medications. Fake Xanax, OxyContin, Roxicodone and other painkillers are popular candidates. These pills may not contain any of the expected components—they may only have some inexpensive (but phenomenally strong) pharmaceutical product like fentanyl and some binding material.

As fentanyl has become a popular drug among drug dealers and some addicted people, more of this drug is being trafficked into this country. Some of it is made into these counterfeit pills and some is mixed into heroin supplies. It’s such a strong drug, however, that just a little bit more than expected in a pill or bag of heroin can mean someone’s death.

Law enforcement agencies will search for and seize machines used for this illicit trade. CNN recently reported on the seizure of a pill press shipped from China to the Los Angeles area. Authorities placed a tracker on it and allowed it to be delivered to the buyer. When agents searched his home, they found six other pill presses and nearly 30 pounds of acetylfetanyl—an analogue (chemically similar drug) to fentanyl.

How Do People Buy Pill Presses?

How can someone acquire a pill press? And how many people are considering purchase? Let’s look at how many people have used Google to search for one of these machines. A chart of the number of searches for “pill press” shows that searches began to trend upward November 29, 2014. They hit their peak on March 25, 2017, at which point there were three times as many searches as on the earlier date.

Pill presses are available for purchase on the Chinese e-commerce site alibaba.com. Prices range from $700 for a slow tabletop machine to a fast hydraulic machine priced at $25,000. There are even 53 pill presses being sold on eBay at this very moment. In most cases, the sellers are in China.

Presses are supposed to be registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration before they are shipped to the U.S. but of course, any machine intended for illicit use will not be registered. The buyer might arrange with the seller to change the labeling for the machine—perhaps to “drill press.” If the machine is inspected, it will be seized but locating every one is impossible. There are nine billion pounds of air cargo shipped to the U.S. each year and 140 million shipping containers.

The Impact of Pill Presses on Our Families

The Guardian recently reported on a number of people who died after buying and consuming these counterfeit pills. Nine Floridians died from counterfeit Xanax, and ten Californians died and a total of 52 overdosed on fake Norco. Anyone who is using drugs and thinks that prescription drugs would be safer to abuse risks overdose and death every time they make a purchase of these pills. Families would be very wise to warn teens and young adults who might be tempted to indulge in this cheap, readily available intoxicant.


Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.