U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) seized 14 pill press die sets from five separate shipments that arrived from China under “Operation Artemis.” These sets are used by drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) to make pills, many of which contain fentanyl and other dangerous drugs.
On September 26, 2023, CBP’s National Targeting Center coordinated with CBP officers at JFK to identify and inspect five suspicious inbound shipments from China. Upon further inspection of the shipments, officers discovered pill press sets.
“The volume and frequency of these pill press die set seizures are alarming and clearly indicate that these DTOs are flooding our communities with these devices to produce deadly fentanyl pills; however, our CBP officers will not waver in their efforts to address the fentanyl crisis and dismantle the networks that are threatening the United States,” said Francis J. Russo, Director of CBP’s New York Field Office.
The opioid epidemic in the United States is a growing crisis. Those who are dependent on prescription opioids may turn to illegal means to obtain the drugs. DTOs, motivated by large profit potential, make counterfeit medications, often containing fentanyl or fentanyl analogs, to meet the high demand for prescription drugs within the illegal drug market.
According to the DEA, in the U.S. market, counterfeit pills containing fentanyl sell at prices between $10 and $20 per pill. Using these numbers, a drug trafficker could generate between $10 to $20 million in sales from one kilogram of fentanyl.
Pill presses are common industrial tools for pharmaceutical development and manufacturing. Sometimes called a tableting machine, these mechanical devices compress powder into tablets by running the powder through a die mold that determines the shape and markings on the tablets. Pill presses vary in size and capacity, with desktop machines able to make approximately 1,800 pills per hour to industrial machines that can produce over a million pills in an hour.
CBP officers seized the 14 pill press die sets and turned them over to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for further investigations.