Buying Contact Lense w/o Prescription (USA)

I’ve been going to the Dr. for 20 years now just to hear him say “eyes look great, script hasn’t changed, that’ll be ~$100.” The past decade, I’ve taken to skipping the yearly appointments and going every 2-3 years. I stock up on lenses and don’t go back for a script renewal until I absolutely have to (they expire in one year here).

So I got online and searched for contacts without a prescription, and found several sites that would sell to me. Most touted the benefits of “buying from Canada,” even though the site I am most likely to try has contact info in Washington State.

As far as I can tell, you can’t dispense contacts without a prescription, and my state has a law stating anyone that dispenses without a script commits a Class A infraction.

So what’s the deal? Anyone else have experience ordering contacts without providing a copy of the doctor’s script to the dispenser? I have the relevant info needed to fill the order, it’s just that the doctor won’t verify it because it is expired. If there are places that will fill without a script and serve the US, why aren’t more people doing it? Is it legal? I’m not afraid of losing my money, they will take paypal or my mastercard, so I’m confident I’d be covered if I get ripped off. I can’t believe the optometrists association isn’t trying to stomp out lenses without scripts if we really are able to order them.

And yes, I know, the Dr. checks for many other eye problems when he does the exam, detects changes in my vision, etc. But it’s my opinion and decision that doing that every 365 days is excessive. Perhaps the Doctor extorting $100 dollars from me every year just so I can have the privilege of buying contacts is actually encouraging me to make my contacts last longer than they should, buying stock that I may not use until it is expired, etc. And evidently scripts expire every two years in some states, one year here, who arbitrarily decided contact scripts should cost a user twice as much in my state compared to yours? If they can’t uniformly decide from state to state that it is medically necessary for a lenses wearer to have their eyes examined every xx years, then I say it is all arbitrary and my opinion is no better than theirs.

Contacts require an exam to refill because

A. The lenses that were appropriate last year may not be this year.
B. Contacts can do a crap ton of nasty permanent damage to your eyes.

$100 dollars or so a year to make sure you don’t lose your eyes is dirt cheap. You probably spend more than that on shoes and socks. You probably spend more in a month for cable and Internet.

Thank you so much for your judgment of my assumed lifestyle. I wear shoes from Wal-Mart that cost $7. I buy one pair a year. The last pair of good shoes I bought was over two years ago. I take care of them and don’t wear them often. A pack of socks don’t cost much more than the shoes…I even have a darning egg for when they get holey. I don’t have cable, and will apologize for allowing myself the luxury of an internet connection (what was I thinking?).

I asked about ordering lenses without a prescription and how this was legal (or how people and companies get away with it). I’m not even asking how to do it, or where to get them from. In fact, I am going to do it. And will never pay an optician again until I notice a problem with my eyes. I didn’t ask for a judgment call on whether one should, for whatever reason. I guess when you’ve made your money extorting redundant fitting fees from people, you’re going to be quick to defend the practice.

Obviously, your eyes are your own and you’re free to do what you want. But vision deteriorates gradually, so you may not notice a problem with your eyes. A couple of times when I’ve gotten new prescriptions (eyeglasses rather than contact lenses), I realize that trees have individual leaves, and not just a continuous blob of green. I had not noticed that my vision had deteriorated.

According to the FDA, you are not breaking any laws by purchasing contact lenses without a valid prescription, although the supplier is violating FTC regulations.

That said, I agree with the responses above that your eyes are precious, contact lenses can have dangers, and you should proceed with caution.

Welcome to the SDMB. Our motto is
“Passing judgment on fellow Dopers since 1973”

Not a lifestyle judgment, just a comparison of costs. And I’ve never made money from fitting fees. I was an optician for 15 years. That’s the person who fills the prescriptions, not the eye doctor. Those are optometrists and ophthalmologists.

If anything it would have been potentially more profitable to be able to sell lenses without a current prescription, since I did have to tell people I couldn’t sell them glasses without one… But it’s not legal (and that’s covered by state laws, not federal) and would have gotten me fired and my boss fined - or even shut down if it happened enough.

You know, if you’re that strapped for cash, you could avoid the potential problems with contact AND save money in the process by just getting glasses.

Contacts seem like a HUGE luxury to me, if you’re stuck buying one pair of super-cheap shoes a year. Glasses are cheaper, last longer, and don’t require periodic replacement if your prescription doesn’t change.

(says the guy who has worn contacts since 1997… but who also buys a couple of pairs of $100-150 per pair shoes a year, has cable, and throws out socks with holes in them, so YMMV)

There does appear to be a federal law, the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (15 U.S.C. 7603) and its implementing regulations (16 CFR 315.5), requires that a seller may sell contact lenses only in accordance with a contact lens prescription. Which seems to me to be “fair” to evryone except the consumers.

However, this law binds only the sellers, and does not limit the consumer’s right to obtain lenses wherever he can find them. The law also does not address the expiration date of the prescription, except to say that it must be valid for at least one year.

Moderator Note

qualityleashdog, if you’re going to ask random people for advice on the internet, it would behoove you not to take offense so readily about the replies you get. Let’s dial it back.

General Questions Moderator

PS. Since the OP is asking for personal experiences, let’s move this over to IMHO.

The point about the shoes is a very valid analogy. Wearing shoes that do not fit your feet as well as a professional might prescribe can result in very costly and debilitating orthopedic consequences to the wearer. Such disabilities could cost our economy billions of dollars in lost wages and remedial medical expenses, and it is incumbent on our legislators to mitigate this with appropriate legislation to criminalize he selling of shoes without a fresh Rx from a medically qualified practitioner at least once a year. Where are the lobbyists when we need them?

My state expires them in one year as well. What I do (when my script isn’t changing, but it has been lately) is to get a script, stock up, then about 11 months later stock up again. On top of wearing them too long, I can easily go several years between visits. Also, considering I can get an exam and fitting at Sam’s Club for about $60 it’s really not that big of a deal to get rechecked once in a while.

For myself, it isn’t so much over the expense of the exam but avoiding that horrific air-puff glaucoma test.
“Oops, sorry, sir, you must have blinked. We’ll have to do it over.”

Visit an up-to-date optometrist who uses a tonometer instead. Air puff is not very accurate.

The glaucoma test is “horrific?” Mammograms are horrific. Tooth extractions are horrific. An air puff on one’s anesthetized eye is a minor inconvenience.

Glaucoma itself would be horrific.

Anesthetized? The fuck? I’ve never had them do that to my eye before the (yes) horrific air puff. And yes, they always need to try again and again because I CAN’T HELP BLINKING AS IT’S AN INVOLUNTARY REACTION TO A LOUD NOISE AND HUGE AMOUNT OF AIR FLYING AT MY EYEBALL. I’ve even had them try and fail so many times that they’ve just given up “oh well, you probably don’t have glaucoma at your age”.

The tooth extractions I’ve had have been literally a dream in comparison. Yes, I meant literally, as I wasn’t conscious for the pulling.

Well, it’s either the puff, or a gizmo that literally touches your eyeball (tonometer?). Both seem equally annoying to me… but horrific? I don’t think so. It’s not like they’re jabbing a dental pick into your eye or something.


I think the OP is well within his right to spend his hard-earned $ on quality leashes.

This is interesting. Are there any laws against a private citizen importing contact lenses from a foreign country for personal use?