Store owner attacks NewsChannel 5 camera crew after selling illegal contact lenses

Warning about Halloween contact lenses

CLEVELAND - "Hi, I'm Jonathan Walsh from NewsChannel5." That's all our consumer advocate got out of his mouth before a store owner physically attacked both Walsh and cameraman Ted Kortan. "Why are you selling us these things?" we kept asking as the altercation continued.

It's all about the sale of illegal Halloween contact lenses and the health scare happening nationwide.

Ohio's Attorney General Mike Dewine, plus eye doctors across the country, are warning of the serious harm costume contact lenses can cause.

We received a rude welcome at that east side store where minutes earlier, we had purchased a pair of 'Cat Eye' contact lenses.

"You gotta go outta here," the owner screamed at us. "Why would you sell these? These are illegal," we asked showing what we had just bought

Decorative lenses like 'Black Out,' 'Fire' and 'Red Cat' designs are popular around Halloween and year-round as fashion statements.

"I'm gonna buy green. I'm gonna try to match my outfits to my eyes," said Robyn Rouse, who was in high school years ago when she got a pair.

"I put them in, wore them for five minutes, took them out and went to sleep," described Rouse. "In less than 24 hours, this is something that I have to deal with now for the rest of my life," she added.

An infection resulted in more than a decade of eye problems.

"I never would have imagined that I'd be going through all this from wearing contacts," Rouse said with a shock in her voice. She now has a transplanted cornea from a cadaver.

"There are viruses. There are fungus. There are bacteria that can eat the cornea in 24 hours," warned Tom Barracato, who is the President of the Opticians Association of America. He said the law is clear.

"These are medical devices. They are illegal to sell over the counter. They must be prescribed whether there is prescription in them or not," Barracato told us. "They must be prescribed by a medical professional," he added.

We checked area costume shops. Some were sold out while others did not stock the lenses but immediately referred us to where we could get them.

"You can get them online," said one store clerk.

In fact, we had no problem finding cosmetic lenses costing less than $20 on the Internet.

"The incidence of problems with cosmetic decorative contact lenses is 16 times higher than regular contact lenses," said Barracato.

The reasons are many. Unprescribed lenses are often from unknown manufacturers and rarely properly fitted. The sealed packaging does not assure they're sterile and many users don't know how to wear or care for them.

"These things across the country have caused a lot of blindness," explained Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine. He told us costume contact complaints are increasing and that he urges consumers to report over-the-counter sellers.

"Anybody who sees some of these, or your child brings it home, be careful!" Dewine warned. "Don't let them use it."

Rouse hopes that people get the message and learn from her story.

"There's still the possibility of me losing my eye," she told us. "Please, if you don't listen to no one else - listen to me. It's not worth it."

As for that east side business selling the costume lenses, after the police got involved, the owner agreed to stop selling them.

"I'm throwing them away," he told us. "I'll throw them in the garbage right now."

We handed over the contacts we bought to Attorney General Dewine and gave him the name of the store involved. If you see stores selling the contacts, call 614-466-9709 and report them right away so no one else gets hurt.

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