Another 'W' for healthy eyes
A commitment to safeguard the public against illegally sold contact lenses has yielded positive results with the AOA's influence on major retailers—most recently against the online auction site, eBay.
Per eBay's Medical Drugs and Devices Policy, the company expressly prohibits the sale of medical devices that require a prescription, including contact lenses and eyewear (aside from collectible, vintage eyewear).
We have never before been as aggressive in going after potential fraudulent websites and cases on the internet.
However, the policy appeared to be largely disregarded by sellers as the AOA located numerous decorative contact lens peddlers, and even purchased a set of novelty lenses with the sham tagline, "Your Eyes, We Care," emblazoned on the packaging.
A letter from President Mitchell T. Munson, O.D.,—which included the novelty lenses—to eBay's CEO, John Donahoe, on March 4, 2014, cited not only a failure on eBay's part to enforce their own policy, but a violation of the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumer Act (FCLCA).
"The ease by which these medical devices were able to be purchased poses a significant and dangerous threat to consumers," Dr. Munson wrote of the novelty lenses. "We urge your company to initiate an effort to stop all sales of contact lenses through eBay so that these FDA-regulated medical devices are no longer able to be provided to consumers without the necessary valid prescription."
Step in the right direction
Following Dr. Munson's letter, eBay's Executive Office issued a reply that the appropriate internal steps were being taken for an in-depth investigation of reported accounts. The response reaffirmed eBay's Medical Drugs and Devices Policy, and stated the company's commitment to removing prohibited listings via internal tools and member reports.
Although the company would not disclose results of their investigation or any actions, the AOA did note specific "flagged" accounts had removed novelty lenses altogether, and there has been a noticeable decrease in novelty lens availability since.
Glenda Secor, O.D., Contact Lens and Cornea Section chair, said the section is charged with being a watchdog for optometry and ODs' patients where contact lenses are concerned. And this past year has presented numerous opportunities to make a stand.
"Within the AOA structure, we're vigilant in going after any indication of potential abuse by any entity that will compromise the standards that professionals require for contact lens prescriptions, and also to protect the public to make sure they do not get something that's inappropriate for them," Dr. Secor says.
The AOA has long championed the nationwide crackdown on illegal contact lens sales and usage to help safeguard consumers against harmful infections with eBay being the most recent example.
In October 2013, the AOA was alerted when the fashion retailer Urban Outfitters started selling "one size fits all" decorative contact lenses without a prescription on its website. What's more, the site stated consumers simply had to "wipe clean" the contact lenses before and after use.
Again, Dr. Munson contacted the company's CEO to insist Urban Outfitters discontinue the unlawful sale of contact lenses without a prescription, and within days, the retailer withdrew online sales of the product completely.
"We have never before been as aggressive in going after potential fraudulent websites and cases on the Internet, such as Urban Outfitters and eBay," Dr. Secor says. "We have been extremely successful in getting some of these things removed."
The AOA is also taking the message straight to consumers with a social media campaign about the dangers of purchasing contact lenses without a prescription, through the use of a targeted advertisement on Facebook.
Members are encouraged to report illegal sales to the AOA and appropriate federal agencies. Send email copies of complaints to Kara Webb, Regulatory Policy and Quality Assessment specialist in the AOA's Washington, D.C., office, so the AOA can log documents internally for discussions with federal agencies.