With Halloween coming up next week, federal officials issued a warning Wednesday about dangers associated with counterfeit decorative contact lenses.
“Even though Halloween approaches, consumers shouldn’t let a good deal or great costume blind them to the dangers of counterfeit decorative contact lenses,” Homeland Security Investigations executive associate director James Dinkins said in a statement issued Oct 23.
“What’s truly scary is the damage these counterfeit lenses can do to your eyes for a lifetime,” Dinkins said.
Decorative and colored lenses are becoming increasingly popular, especially around Halloween each year, according to the FDA and other federal agencies.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are working to seize counterfeit contact lenses, illegally imported decorative lenses, and lenses unapproved by the FDA, according to their statement.
This effort is being coordinated with the ICE-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center in the Nation’s Capital and it’s being called “Operation Double Vision.”
Officials are warning consumers not to buy contact lenses from such places as Halloween or novelty shops, salons, beauty supply stores, or online if the site doesn’t require a prescription, according to ICE officials.
Many places illegally sell decorative contact lenses to consumers without valid prescriptions for as little as $20, ICE officials said. But these vendors are not authorized distributors of contact lenses, which by law require a prescription.
“Because of the inherent medical risks, it is illegal to purchase or sell contact lenses of any kind without a prescription from an ophthalmologist, optometrist or a specially licensed optician under the supervision of an eye doctor,” ICE officials said in their statement.
“Decorative contact lenses can typically be ordered from the office that conducts the eye exam and contact lens fitting.”
Here’s more from the Oct. 23 statement issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal agencies:
The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act gives the consumers the right to obtain a copy of their contact lens prescription, allowing them to fill that prescription at the business of their choice, including online discount sites. Various legitimate stores and websites sell decorative lenses but consumers should avoid buying these lenses from anywhere that does not require a valid prescription.
“Our concern is that consumers who buy and use decorative contact lenses without a valid prescription can run significant risks of eye injuries, including blindness,” said John Roth, director of FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations. “It is always better to involve a qualified eye care professional and protect your vision.”
“Contact lenses are a medical device and it is smart to purchase them from a medical professional who will fit them to your eye and provide you with instruction on the use and care of the lenses,” said Dr. Glenda Brown, president and a member of the Georgia Optometric Association. “Consumers who buy lenses that were manufactured and sold illegally can experience infections, corneal ulcers and even blindness. A lifetime of good vision is so much more important than a cheap Halloween accessory.”
Medical experts advise consumers interested in buying decorative lenses to get an eye exam from a licensed eye doctor, even if you think your vision is perfect; to get a valid prescription that includes the brand name, lens measurements and an expiration date; to buy the lenses from a seller that requires you to provide a prescription, regardless of whether you shop online or in person; and to follow directions for cleaning, disinfecting, and wearing the lenses. Also, consumers should not expect their eye doctor to prescribe anime, or circle lenses, which give the wearer a wide-eyed, doll-like look, as these have not been approved by the FDA. Finally, an eye doctor should be seen right away if there are signs of eye infection, including redness, lasting eye pain or decrease in vision.
The HSI-led Intellectual Property Rights Center is billed as “one of the U.S. government’s key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy.” The IPR Center coordinates with a Justice Department Task Force on Intellectual Property, and member agencies, to share info, develop initiatives, conduct investigations, and take enforcement actions.
The stated goal of the IPR Center is to protect public health and safety and the U.S. economy.