The same cartoon characters that send the children in Western New York off on flights of fantasy are being used by area drug dealers to send teen-agers into a different kind of orbit.
Narcotics investigators for the Erie County Sheriff's Department report that ink drawings of "Mickey Mouse," "Minnie Mouse," and various animals are being used to disguise hits of the drug LSD.
Chief Santo A. Costantino says the appearance of the cartoons laced with LSD coincides with a "major resurgence" in the use of LSD among local high school students and older teens.
"We're almost getting to the point where we were during the psychadelic age of the late 1960s, when Timothy Leary was in his day," said the veteran narcotics chief.
He said police have received intelligence reports that the LSD characters are showing up in area high schools and among groups of slightly older teens, where they sell for $2 to $3 a hit.
Police sources said the most popular way to disguise and market LSD is to mix the hallucinogenic drug with black ink, which is then used in the drawings.
The most popular designs in this area are drawings of a bird, known as the "black dove" or drawings of unicorns, investigators said.
Chief Constantino said the Walt Disney characters of Mickey and Minnie Mouse also have been showing up here recently. Each drawing contains four hits of LSD, he said.
The drawings are considered highly dangerous, especially to those who might accidentally ingest the ink, said the chief.
"A police officer in Los Angeles accidentally ingested some of it when he put an eraser to his mouth that had been exposed to the LSD," he said. "That was about 10 years ago. He went whacky and he's still in the hospital."
Chief Constantino says LSD, which fell out of favor during much of the 1970s, has come back into favor as the recreational drug of choice behind marijuana and cocaine.
LSD is relatively inexpensive and has taken the place of PCP on the Buffalo and Erie County black market, Chief Constantino contends.
"There's still a lot of PCP around, but some people are becoming scared off by the reports of the great danger," he explains. "What they don't know is that LSD can be just as dangerous."
He says LSD is also sold in liquid form, and in the form of dots, stars and smears of various colors printed on paper. The cartoon characters and animal drawings have become popular recently.
"Actually, it's a flashy form of marketing for these people," the chief adds.