In a press release that seems designed as much to direct business to licensed eye doctors as much as it is to invoke safety fears, not one, not two, but three federal agencies have banded together to warn us all about the dangers of sticking just any old colored translucent discs we come across into our eyes:
With Halloween rapidly approaching, federal officials are warning the public about the dangers associated with counterfeit decorative contact lenses. Decorative and colored lenses are becoming increasingly popular, especially around this time of year.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are working to seize counterfeit contact lenses, illegally imported decorative lenses, and lenses unapproved by the FDA. This ongoing effort, which is being coordinated with the ICE-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Washington, is being called "Operation Double Vision."
"Even though Halloween approaches, consumers shouldn't let a good deal or great costume blind them to the dangers of counterfeit decorative contact lenses," said HSI Executive Associate Director James Dinkins. "What's truly scary is the damage these counterfeit lenses can do to your eyes for a lifetime."
It's scary enough for the feds to include a slide show featuring a few messed-up eyeballs, but apparently not scary enough to provide any actual data indicating the frequency or severity of actual injuries caused by "counterfeit decorative contact lenses." I left a message for ICE's media office, as it's the agency hosting the press release, to see if I can get any actual statistics.
A quick Internet search leads to a report from 2010 that says contact lens-related injuries lead to 34,000 emergency room visits by minors every year, but the brief coverage doesn't indicate whether these are government-approved contacts or not.
What the feds want is for people not to stick $20 lenses from costume shops in their eyes, but rather to see a licensed eye doctor and get a valid prescription for whatever colored lenses the government has authorized them to wear. The FDA also offers a big screw-you to anybody engaging in anime cosplay for the holiday: "[C]onsumers 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."
So, Americans, don't go sticking things in your eyes unless they're expensive and the government approves it.
UPDATE: Skip Oliva tweeted me a link to a piece he wrote for the Ludwig von Mises Institute in 2011 looking at the federal government's aggressive regulation of decorative contact lenses. Read it here.