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Georgia Grappling With Illegal Sales of Decorative Contact Lenses

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Anti-immigration demonstrator Roberta Allen wears American flag contact lenses during an anti-immigration rally May 5, 2006 in Santa Clara, Calif. (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Anti-immigration demonstrator Roberta Allen wears American flag contact lenses during an anti-immigration rally May 5, 2006 in Santa Clara, Calif. (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) — Georgia officials are keeping an eye out for illegal decorative contact lenses.

The Georgia Board of Dispensing Opticians has received numerous complaints about the illegal sale of decorative contact lenses throughout the state by unauthorized store owners.

“We address all complaints,” Diane Drake, chair of the board, told CBS Atlanta. “We don’t want to have anything being done that’s illegal.”

Decorative contact lenses are especially popular this time of year, with Halloween just around the corner and people trying to piece together the best costume without spending a lot of money.

The problem exists throughout the year, however, which is why the Food and Drug Administration carefully monitors the sale of decorative contact lenses at all times.

Improper use and care could result in serious eye problems for wearers. One release about the matter on the FDA website tells the cautionary tale of a woman whose inexpensive costume contacts wound up costing thousands in medical bills.

“Laura Butler paid $30 for her decorative lenses and $2,000 in medical bills,” the release warns. “And she nearly lost an eye.”

Drake agreed that the contact lenses themselves are not usually the problem. Rather, it is how the wearer stores and uses the lenses that can cause trouble.

“We teach (patients) how to wear contacts, how to put them in and take them out to prevent them from damaging their eyes,” she said. “When (these stores) don’t tell people how to care for the lenses, it’s of great concern to all eye care professionals.”

Drake, also an adjunct optics professor at Georgia Piedmont Technical College, added that even the wrong type of cleaning solution could prove harmful, as well as the non-conforming shape of the lens and the potential inability of the wearer’s eyes to handle contacts.

Georgia law on the matter states that “(a)ny person wishing to obtain the right to practice the trade or occupation of dispensing optician … before it shall be lawful for him or her to do so in this state, (must) make application to the board.”

In addition to an age minimum and fee, as well as other criteria, the law requires that the applicant complete at least 850 hours of study in optical dispensing, or have prior experience or training in the field.

Dispensing opticians must also instruct wearers at the time of purchase to consult with an optometrist for “evaluation, approval, and follow-up care.”

An investigative report conducted by WGCL-TV looked into the sale of these decorative color lenses at various gas stations throughout the state after one resident reportedly suffered infections in both eyes after wearing them.

“When you buy them at the gas station, they don’t tell you that you need cleansing solution. They’re not going to tell you that some brands will dry your eyes out,” Jayme Robinson told WGCL-TV.

Cases like Robinson’s are far from unique according to Drake, who noted that issues regarding improper use and care of contact lenses can be seen every day, all over the country.

“There have been reports (in other states) … of teenage girls wearing lenses that were prescribed to them, who will go the bathroom at school and switch (with another girl),” she said. “All kinds of things can happen, and unfortunately, that will happen a lot of times.”

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