Fact Check

LSD Tattoos

Drug dealers hand out LSD-laced tattoos of cartoon characters to schoolchildren?

Published Oct 16, 2000

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Rub-on "tattoos" of cartoon characters laced with LSD are handed out to children by unscrupulous drug dealers.

This bit of scarelore dates to at least the late 1970s, and it still makes little logical sense. A dealer looking to recruit new customers would do better to distribute a more addictive drug than LSD, handing out LSD-soaked candy would work far more effectively than passing around LSD-impregnated papers which require the drug to be absorbed through the skin, and elementary school kids are not known for having large incomes to spend on drugs. This "warning" also includes a legend within a legend: the notion that strychnine is present in LSD, either because it's a byproduct of the synthesis process, or because it's used to adulterate or "cut" the drug. Even if strychnine were present in LSD (for whatever reason), introducing your customers to the world of drugs by giving them samples laced with enough poison to kill them is an extremely poor way of generating repeat business.

Not surprisingly, no verified case of LSD-laced transfer tattoos has ever surfaced. The one bit of the story with anything genuine to it at all is the association between cartoon characters and LSD. Sometimes when the drug is manufactured by impregnating sheets of blotter paper with dots of liquid LSD, the paper is first printed with cartoon characters. This illustrated blotter acid, however, is ingested the usual way: the tab is chewed, then swallowed.

Blurred photocopies of this specious warning against innocent children's being lured into a life of drug use via rub-on LSD-laced tattoos have been circulated everywhere. Back in the 1970s the image rumored to be used on these transfers was that of Mickey Mouse, but as times changed so did the image: the 1990s version of this tale saw Bart Simpson's name added to the list of potentially dangerous tattoos. These flyers have come to be known as "Blue Star Acid" warnings because even though the cartoon characters the tattoos purportedly depict have changed over the years, a blue star is the image most often cited as the one to look out for. This rumor spreads through communities like wildfire because, as always, anything that's perceived to be an immediate danger to children is taken very seriously and immediately passed on, no matter how implausible or unverified it may be. That these flyers are often issued with the imprimatur of the local police department (or some other important-sounding organization) makes them all them more believable to the public.

By far the most common version of this alert is signed by a "J. O'Donnell" of the Outpatient Chemical Dependency Treatment Service at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut. Don't believe it. The hospital says it has never employed anyone by that name, and they've been inundated with Blue Star calls every year since 1992.

Blue Star warnings tend to crop up every year as the kids are going back to school and seem to run strong right up until Halloween. Though Blue Star panics can occur at any time, the early fall is the season for them:

Still, school officials insist they were just playing it safe, putting out a warning after receiving an alert from a concerned parent."If it's not true, that's terrific, but you like to err on the side of caution," said Islip Terrace Junior High School principal Bruce Castka.

Though at first glance this seems a reasonable approach to take, it breaks down upon further examination. It comes down to a matter of credibility — lose it by panicking your kids over Blue Star Acid, and you won't have the support you need when you talk to them about things they should be in the know about. How authoritative will "Yes, you can get pregnant the very first time, or you could even catch AIDS!" sound when your little darlings can toss back at you, "Oh, Mom! Don't you remember when you had us all going about LSD-laced tattoos?"

While protecting kids always has to be a priority, sometimes what they most need to be protected from is misinformation. Kids need to be able to trust what their parents and teachers tell them. Cry "Wolf!" once too often, and you send your kids defenseless into a world of lurking lupines they'll never recognize on their own.

Here is a typical newspaper article appearing in the wake of yet another "Blue Star Acid" scare rolling through yet another town:

It's not the first time the alarm bell has sounded. Nor will it likely be the last.In recent weeks, public and private schools have sent home frightening letters warning of drug-soaked fake tattoos and have been urging parents to spread the word.

"It's like a bad nightmare. This letter keeps resurfacing over a period of time," said Dr. Frank Bonfiglio, program director for the Middle Tennessee Poison Center of this urban folklore.

But the letters, often circulated by well-intentioned individuals, perpetuate a hoax.

Bonfiglio said no LSD-laced tattoos have been reported in Middle Tennessee. One letter notes the information came from a "J. O'Donnell, Danbury Hospital Outpatient Chemical Dependency Treatment Center." No other details are provided.

There is a chemical dependency center at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut. Apparently the volume of inquiries has been so high that the answering machine states: "We did not issue this warning. . . . We have not had any indication of this occurring in our area."

Even if the tattoos exist, Bonfiglio said touching them as the letters imply presents no harm. "Kids would have to lick the tattoo to get it absorbed into the body," he said.

The warning flyers began resurfacing early last month, said Joe Edgens, director of operations for Metro Schools. His copy came from the Metro Emergency Management office, which learned about the tattoos from the Tennessee Emergency Management Association, which was sent the information from Washington, D.C.

Edgens said he forwarded the letter to school principals. Many, like Chadwell Elementary Principal Jim Bob James, copied the letter and sent it home with children.

In his letter to parents, James cautions parents that "Blue Star" tattoos laced with LSD are being sold to children. Other tattoos resembling postage stamps with Superman, Disney characters and Bart Simpson could also be drug laced and dangerous, he added.

The letter continues: "If your child gets any of the above, do not handle them. These are known to react quickly and some are laced with strychnine."

James said he had his students' best interest at heart when he sent out the alarming letter.

"If it is a hoax, it's still important to look out for the safety of our children. If anything, it could make parents more cautious of what their children have."

Edgens added: "If you err, err on the side of safety. I don't know that we've erred."

More information about this legend can be found in Dave Gross' comprehensive Blue Star Acid FAQ.

Barbara "the only tattoo you have to worry about your kid coming home with is the one from Fantasy Island" Mikkelson


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