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Pill press molds used to produce illicit fentanyl targeted in legislation in Congress

Bags of heroin, some laced with fentanyl, are displayed before a press conference regarding a major drug bust, at the office of the New York Attorney General, Sept. 23, 2016 in New York City. (Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Lia Chien, Nevada Current
May 30, 2024

WASHINGTON – Bipartisan legislation pushed in both chambers of Congress aims to stop illegal fentanyl production and trafficking by focusing on the machinery used to manufacture pills.

The Criminalizing Abused Substance Templates, or CAST, Act would redefine the criminal penalty for producing counterfeit drugs using a pill press. Counterfeiting drugs is already illegal as outlined in the Controlled Substances Act  but no penalty is included in the law.

Under CAST, it would be illegal to possess a pill press mold with the intent to produce schedule I or II drugs, a crime punishable for up to 20 years.

CAST was introduced in the House by Reps. Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat, and David Kustoff, a Tennessee Republican, in October 2019 and it was reintroduced in March 2023.

The bill got a boost earlier this month when Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., introduced it in the upper chamber.

The bill particularly targets the production and distribution of opioids, especially fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid with an incredibly high potency, about 100 times more than morphine. As a result, it’s often mixed into other drugs to increase strength, sometimes in lethal doses.

Synthetic opioids are the main drivers of opioid overdoses. Between 2020 and 2021, deaths involving synthetic opioids like illegally made fentanyl rose by 55%, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Opioid-related and other drug poisoning deaths per 100,000 people are highest in West Virginia, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Lawmakers attribute this rise in fentanyl-related deaths to the counterfeit market and drug trafficking.

“The overdose crisis and the rising scourge of fentanyl are undoubtedly made worse by the rise in use of illicit pill presses to manufacture counterfeit drugs,” Spanberger said in a statement about her legislation.

“By stepping up penalties for narcotics traffickers who use illicit pill presses to manufacture drugs, our bipartisan legislation would empower our law enforcement officers to crack down on these criminals and prevent dangerous substances — such as fentanyl — from being pressed into illicit pills and sold on our streets.”

Much of the illicit fentanyl sold in the U.S. contains at least a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl, 2 mg. A DEA study found that 42% of tested pills contained this amount or more, some as much as 5.1 mg.

Lawmakers said they want to ensure law enforcement officials have the necessary tools to stop the production and sale of these drugs.

“Strengthening penalties for the criminals creating these counterfeit drugs can help get them off the market,” said Hassan in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation will help ensure that law enforcement officials have the tools that they need to crack down on criminals making counterfeit drugs.”

According to the DEA, because lethal doses of fentanyl are often mixed in with other drugs, it can be “possible for someone to take a pill without knowing it contains fentanyl.” Cassidy said the CAST Act could prevent these deaths.

“No one should have to worry if their medicines are counterfeit or laced with fentanyl,” he said.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: info@nevadacurrent.com. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.