AOA pushes Amazon to sufficiently address inappropriate contact lens sales

April 6, 2021
The global e-commerce retailer again came to the AOA’s attention over posts from contact lens sellers that didn’t appear to meet FCLCA patient protection provisions requiring valid prescriptions.
Win Nondakowit -

Image credit: Win Nondakowit -

Noting Amazon’s recent foray into proprietary health care services, the AOA issued an appeal for the e-commerce giant to proactively address patient safety concerns as unlawful contact lens sales continue on its marketplace.

In a March 30 letter to the retailer, the AOA once again called on Amazon to stop contact lens sellers who game the online platform to sell these Class II and Class III Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-regulated medical devices without a valid prescription. The appeal isn’t the first time the AOA spotlighted sellers’ attempts to skirt federal law and Amazon’s own medical devices policy, potentially risking consumers’ eye health, and at a time when the global company is publicly touting new health care services for its employees.

Currently, Amazon is piloting  a new primary care program and multiple health centers, as well as an online pharmacy launched in 2018. While these services are intended only for Amazon employees, the retailer is reportedly taking aim at the employer market, too. Such is the case, the AOA argues that Amazon must sufficiently address the immediate need for platform and policy reforms in its marketplace that keep consumers safe.

“This issue is of importance not only to overall patient safety but also because of the significant legal and regulatory requirements related to the sales of contact lenses,” reads the letter, signed by AOA President William T. Reynolds, O.D.

“The AOA would like to work with you to determine what can be done to truly put a stop to contact lenses being sold through Amazon.”

AOA requests permanent, proactive policy changes at Amazon

Contact lenses may only be sold in accordance with a valid contact lens prescription, per patient protection provisions set forth by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and FDA. However, the AOA continues to document vendor activity on Amazon’s marketplace that subverts these requirements.

While not a regulatory enforcement agency and only acting as a leading authority on eye health and vision care, the AOA first brought these concerns to Amazon’s attention in 2019. At the time, the company thanked the AOA’s diligence and removed the non-complying products. But the AOA’s concerns still stand, especially as new vendors or products appear, often employing sneaky tactics for selling their contact lenses without a valid prescription.

By simply uploading a new listing, the AOA noted, vendors can obtain a new Amazon identification number even when the product being sold is the exact product taken down by Amazon under a different identification number. Therefore, the AOA requested Amazon consider a more permanent, proactive policy to remove these potentially harmful products from the marketplace.

Contact lenses are a safe, effective vision correction option when worn and cared for properly. However, poor-fitting or improperly used contact lenses can result in serious harm, which is why these medical devices—even those that are only intended to change the appearance of the eye—require an eye doctor’s prescription and oversight to purchase.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 million doctor and hospital visits annually are attributed to keratitis, an eye infection often linked to improper contact lens use, at a cost of $175 million to the U.S. health care system. What’s more, a 2017 FDA report found that 60% of counterfeit contact lenses tested positive for microbial contaminations that could lead to these serious eye infections.

Support AOA’s contact lens advocacy

Better documentation of unlawful contact lens sales helps the AOA build a case for increased enforcement among the FTC and FDA, as well as greater impetus for marketplaces, such as Amazon, to take immediate action. Here’s how doctors of optometry can report illegal sales or adverse events related to contact lenses: 

For more information on illegal retailer or incident reporting, contact AOA advocacy staff.

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