by Anita Dubey
The myth seems to have started in 1980 in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
Since then, false warnings about "Blue Star" LSD tattoos and their ability to cause fatal "trips" among children have spread across the continent like a recurring viral infection, raising panic at each outbreak.
The latest notices appeared in parts of Northern Ontario and Ottawa last fall.
"Every late September or early October this same sheet of paper seems to find its way into the school system," said Const. Gary Cooper of the Thunder Bay OPP. "Every year you get a new wave of parents coming in. If this is their first exposure, it really sets off the warning signals."
The warnings claim, incorrectly, that LSD-laden tattoos of blue stars or Disney characters are readily available in parts of the United States and Canada.
"Absorption can occur through the skin by simply handling the paper while applying the tattoo," one version reads. "A young child could happen upon these and have a fatal 'trip.'"
Experts say it's highly unlikely for LSD to be absorbed through unbroken skin. The drug is usually taken orally, causing hallucinations, mood swings and distorted senses.
Police across Canada have not encountered LSD tattoos, although LSD is a known street drug in Canada. "No lab has ever analyzed tattoos with LSD on them," said Addiction Research Foundation (ARF) pharmacist Pearl Isaac. "There's no reason for parents to be checking kids' lunch boxes for tattoos."
Like a chain letter, the written warnings usually ask the reader to spread the information to anyone who has children. And so, with the unwitting help of well-intentioned officials and concerned parents, Blue Star has become a classic urban myth.
Last fall, police departments in Ontario were mailed copies from Vancouver, B.C. The initial reaction of Cpl. Michael Robineau of the Ottawa RCMP was to fax it on to five local school boards. But on further investigation, Robineau discovered the information was false. Within hours he faxed a correction to the boards.
However, in many cases the inaccuracies are discovered too late, or not at all. Schools copy the notice and send it home with children. It has been posted in hospitals and police departments, and translated into German and Spanish.
"It causes a lot of stress and panic for parents," said Cooper. "It gives them sometimes a false perception that drugs are running rampant through the schools."
Over the years, the warnings have been retyped and distorted. By the late 1980s, they claimed there were LSD tattoos of butterflies, clowns and red pyramids in addition to Blue Stars. In the 1990s, Bart Simpson was added to the list.
Different versions also cite different authorities - usually the police department or hospitals - as the source of its information. The Thunder Bay Police Department received a notice that claimed to come from a staff member of a Connecticut hospital. When contacted, hospital officials denied the person worked there and said they'd been receiving calls about it for several years.
LSD is often packaged as "blotter acid" - sheets of blotting paper soaked in LSD. Since the blotting paper may bear stamps of Disney characters and unicorns, it's possible that the creators of the Blue Star myth mistook blotter acid for tattoos.
One of the original notices, if not the first, has been traced back to the Seventh Day Adventists' Office of Education in Berrien Springs, Michigan. In 1980, the office received information about LSD, typed up its own flier and sent it to local school boards.
By the time the office learned their message was inaccurate, it had already spread far beyond Michigan.
"It has a life of its own," said Isaac.
The Blue Star message was reproduced, verbatim, on an all-staff memo on Government of Canada letterhead in 1987. It was posted as an official notice at the U.S. Embassy in Peru in 1988.
Newspaper articles calling the Blue Star messages a "hoax" have appeared in the past five years in Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie and Brockville. But the cold facts have yet to kill the myth.
Almost two dozen concerned parents, teachers and police called the ARF's information line after the recent notices turned up. Each fall for the past few years, Const. Cooper has calmed frantic parents.
All officials say they can do is distribute correct information whenever the warning appears, and tell parents to use the opportunity to talk to their children about drugs in general.