Friday, August 12, 2016

Poisoning People for Fun and Profit—Part 17: Visine

Visine, the "get the red out" eye-soother, is popular with pranksters and poisoners alike these days. Tetrahydrozoline—the active ingredient in eye drops like Visine, Murine, Eyesine, Tysine, and similar generic products as well as some nasal sprays—is rumored to have laxative properties when ingested. It has no taste and is undetectable in water.

This was a plot point in the wildly successful 2005 film comedy Wedding Crashers, starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. It was hilarious when Bradley Cooper's character's water was laced with Visine and he disappeared with a case of the green-apple quick-step. 

An eye-drops joke in this film has led to tears
Screenwriters Steve Faber and Bob Fisher probably came up with the idea from an old "urban myth" often shared by restaurant and bar workers. They'd tell stories of the bartender or cocktail waitress who dealt with obnoxious clientele by sending them into a "time out" in the restroom with a few drops of Visine in their cocktails.

It's a good story. The problem is tetrahydrozoline does not cause diarrhea. 
It does, however have a number of other effects on the body. Like, oh…

Difficulty breathing
Blurred vision
Rapid heartbeat
Blue lips and fingernails
High blood pressure (at first)
Low blood pressure (later)

Not all that funny. It disrupts the entire central nervous system. 

Not a laxative. But it is poisonous.

Unfortunately the film has inspired many people to do amazingly stupid things to perpetrate what they thought were relatively harmless pranks, funny revenge scenarios, and highly misguided attempts at weight loss.

Pranks Gone Wrong

In 2006, a group of Wisconsin high school boys thought it would be fun to pull a "Wedding Crashers" prank on a pal in the lunchroom. The pal ended up in the hospital in need of a defibrillator and the boys landed in the pokey.

In 2007 a feud between employees at an Oregon nursing home resulted in the poisoning of two employees with Visine in a "gift" of strawberry soda.

The pranks have even resulted in death. In 2009 a Vermont woman died after a Halloween party from what were presumed to be natural causes, but later a co-worker confessed to spiking the punch with Visine as a joke. The co-worker was later arrested for third degree assault.

Others Have used Visine Knowing its Lethal Effects.

Earlier that year, a woman in Missouri was charged with first-degree assault for dumping half a bottle of eye drops into her husband's tea in an attempt to murder him.

In 2012, a Pennsylvania woman was sentenced to up to four years in prison for poisoning her boyfriend with Visine over a period of three years.

In 2013, a man in California laced his girlfriend's drink with Visine when he suspected her of cheating. She lived, but he went to jail for domestic violence. (He made the mistake of texting all his friends to brag about it. It's amazing how many killers get tripped up by their own stupidity.)

A Wyoming teen was poisoning her stepmom with Visine in 2013 and might have succeeded in bumping her off—she'd already gone through 5 bottles of the stuff—but the ailing stepmom looked into the girl's search history and found a bunch of searches on Visine poisoning. (If anybody checks out my search history, I'm in real trouble! ) 

A Woman was arrested in January 2020 for killing her husband by putting Visine in his water. She said she only wanted to give him diarrhea. 

How to Treat a Victim of Visine Poisoning

If your characters (or you) suspect somebody's been lacing your beverages with eye drops, there's help. Most cases do not result in death if they are caught soon enough. 

In the US, you can call the poison hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

And according to,  if someone is suffering from Tetrahydrozoline poisoning they need to get to a hospital asap. They will be treated with gastric lavage, IV fluids, oxygen and probably a ventilator. 

Visine in Fiction

Visine poisoning appears in fiction too. Besides the legendary scene in Wedding Crashers, there's an episode of CSI, "Revenge Is Best Served Cold," where a drink spiked with Visine results in death. And the laxative myth about Visine is perpetuated in the movie  I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.


What about you? Do you know of any other fictional cases of Visine poisoning? What about in real life?

Here's a list of all the posts in the poison series

SHERWOOD, LTD: Camilla Mystery #2

For mystery lovers who like a good poisoning murder

Suddenly-homeless American manners expert Camilla Randall becomes a 21st century Maid Marian—living rough near the real Sherwood Forest with a band of outlaw English erotica publishers—led by a charming, self-styled Robin Hood who unfortunately may intend to kill her. 

When Camilla is invited to publish a book of her columns with UK publisher Peter Sherwood, she lands in a gritty criminal world—far from the Merrie Olde England she envisions. The staff are ex-cons and the erotica is kinky. Hungry and penniless, she camps in a Wendy House built from pallets of porn while battling an epic flood, a mendacious American Renfaire wench, and the mysterious killer who may be Peter himself.

Sherwood, Ltd. is available in ebook for only $2.99 from all the AmazonsiTunesGooglePlay ScribdInkteraKobo, Nook, and Smashwords
And it's available in paper from Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Sample Reviews:

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  1. This is just - wow .... I never ever knew this about Visine! I mean, really? This is just fascinating. And that so many people have used it to poison others is so surprising to me. I would never have known had I not read this post. Thank you.

    1. Patricia--Most of the prank poisonings are "Animal House" stuff. In fact, in the Animal House days, they used to put Ex-Lax in fraternity party punch and think it was hilarious to see the pledges running off to the little boys room. But when they graduated to Visine, it wasn't just a nasty prank--it turned deadly. Why the Ex-Lax thing was considered funny, I don't get. But then, I think it's a guy thing.

      The deadly poisonings, on the other hand, are more feminine. Lucrezia Borgia was famous for them, but I don't think she actually got caught.

  2. How about Visine + Ex-Lax for the one, two punch? Anyone ever tried that?

    1. Ruth--That could be a really vicious use of Visine. :-(