Last year, CNN reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection “is seizing pill presses at a rate 19 times higher than in 2011. That's the year the synthetic drug fentanyl exploded in the US drug market, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), along with U.S. Representatives David Kustoff (R-TN) and Annie Kuster (D-NH), today introduced the Substance Tableting and Encapsulating Enforcement and Registration (STEER) Act (S. 3281 / H.R. 6554), bipartisan legislation to combat the opioid crisis by cracking down on counterfeit pill makers.

Last year, CNN reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection “is seizing pill presses at a rate 19 times higher than in 2011. That's the year the synthetic drug fentanyl exploded in the US drug market, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. … ‘People have died from ingesting what they think is a legitimate painkiller, (but really) it's a counterfeit pill that contains fentanyl,’” said one Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent.

The Washington Post reported that “Law enforcement officials and medical professionals say that counterfeit opioid pills … have been flooding the illicit drug market and have been sickening — and killing — those who are seeking out powerful prescription drugs amid a worsening national opioid crisis. … One kilogram of illicit fentanyl — far cheaper than heroin or oxycodone — can produce 1 million counterfeit pills, netting $10 million to $20 million in revenue, according to the DEA.”

The bipartisan STEER Act allows the U.S. attorney general to create and maintain a registry of tableting or encapsulating machine owners, track machines imported or exported to or from the United States, and requires the Department of Justice to provide a report to Congress detailing the registration and accounting of any machines used in criminal activity and seized by the DEA.

“We can save lives by getting black-market opioid pills off the streets,” said Dr. Cassidy. “We’ve seen fake pills show up in New Orleans, Shreveport, Natchitoches, and other places around the state. This legislation will help law enforcement identify counterfeit pill makers and shut them down, leading to safer families and healthier communities.”

“As part of our efforts to combat the opioid crisis it is critical that we do everything that we can to prevent the production of counterfeit drugs that help fuel the tide of addiction,” said Senator Hassan. “The bipartisan STEER Act requires anyone who owns tableting or encapsulating machines, which are used to manufacture pills, to register them with the DEA to ensure that the machines are not used for illicit purposes. Members from both parties – and President Trump’s own opioid commission – agree on the importance of regulating these machines, and I hope that we can move this bill forward with the urgency needed to match the severity of this epidemic.”

“We must remain on the frontlines of combating the opioid epidemic. Pill presses play a huge role in the spread of opioids by providing an easy pathway for these narcotics to infiltrate our communities without detection. The opioid death rate is now at an all-time high, and it is more important than ever to provide solutions to bring this national crisis to an end. The STEER Act proposes real, tangible steps to help authorities keep track of these machines and crack down on the production of illicit drugs,” said Rep. Kustoff. “Many thanks to Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) for working alongside me as an original cosponsor of this important legislation. I also appreciate the support of my colleagues, Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), for introducing a companion bill in the U.S. Senate. The opioid crisis transcends party lines, and together we can bring an end to this epidemic once and for all.”

“The spread of synthetic opioids has accelerated an already deadly epidemic,” said Rep. Kuster. “Knockoff opioids often contain dangerous synthetics such as fentanyl or carfentanil, which simply put, will kill unwitting individuals suffering from substance use disorder. It’s critical that we get unregistered pill presses off the street and hold drug dealers and bad actors responsible for pushing these counterfeit drugs.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is this legislation necessary?

This legislation gives the U.S. Department of Justice and law enforcement the ability to better combat the opioid crisis by identifying pill press machines being used for illegal purposes. It also creates criminal penalties for people who use tableting and encapsulating machines to turn illegal drugs into counterfeit pills that cause accidental overdoses.

Does this legislation mean that I will no longer be able to own a pill press machine?

No. Anyone who currently owns a pill press machine or who is able to own a pill press machine will still be free to do so. This legislation does not affect anyone’s ability to purchase or own a pill press machine.

Will I have to register the machine I use for soaps, vitamins, or other homeopathic purposes?

No. This legislation is targeted to fight the opioid epidemic. If you are not manufacturing controlled substances or using analogues of controlled substances in your manufacturing, this legislation does not apply to you.

If I own a pill press machine, will I be put on a government list?

No. If you have not and are not using your machine to make drugs classified as controlled substances, this legislation does not require the U.S. attorney general to register your machine.

How is the government going to register all of these machines?

The bill requires the U.S. attorney general to make the public aware of the need to register pill press machines if they are using them to create controlled substances. If you are not using your pill press or encapsulating machine to create controlled substances, or have not used it to do so in the past, the attorney general is not required to register the machine. Additionally, the attorney general is not required to register a machine if doing so is inconsistent with public interest.

Won’t criminals just lie about how they use their machines and make deadly counterfeit pills with fentanyl anyway?

While no legislation can make people tell the truth, this legislation does increase the penalties for criminals who lie and use tableting and encapsulating machines to put deadly opioids on the streets. This bill will help ensure more criminals receive jail time and pay fines.

Contributed by Sen. Bill Cassidy