Saturday, August 31, 1996 -- COEUR D'ALENE

LSD scare a flashback for officers

Alarmist flier has circulated the country for years
Susan Drumheller/The Spokesman-Review

Like a recurring bad trip, an alarmist flier has resurfaced in the Inland Northwest, warning that a dangerous form of LSD is being peddled to schoolchildren.

This week, the warning appeared among incident reports at the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department.

The problem is, no one seems to have any evidence that it's true.

``This is one of those things that almost became like a chain letter, it has so many twists and turns,'' said Tom Sofio, a spokesman for Sacred Heart Medical Center. ``This thing has been passed literally around the country.''

The warning has been circulating the globe for 15 years now, attaining the stature of urban legend. Because certain elements of it ring true, it's easily perpetuated by fax, photocopy or -- more recently -- the Internet.

No one knows exactly where or how it started, but observers believe it originated when a well-meaning individual became alarmed by LSD blotter paper and its potential appeal to young children.

Sacred Heart got involved when one of its employees used the company fax machine to send out the warning to 1st Step Services, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Spokane. The employee got the flier from a day care center worker.

The fact that it was sent on Sacred Heart fax paper gave the rumor a boost of legitimacy that it didn't deserve, Sofio said. 1st Step Services made dozens of copies and distributed them far and wide.

The warning states that a ``form of tattoo called `Blue Star' is being sold to schoolchildren. ... They are the size of a pencil eraser, and each star is soaked with LSD.''

Other designs on the paper ``tattoos'' include Superman, Mickey Mouse, clowns, Disney characters, Bart Simpson, butterflies, the flier said.

``If your child gets any of the above, do not handle them. These are known to react quickly and some are laced with strychnine,'' it states.

Lt. Nile Shirley said he was given the warning by a member of the Kootenai County Substance Abuse Council.

``I had heard a rumor that this stuff was happening recently,'' he said. ``I wouldn't consider it a hoax, because it's certainly a probability or a possibility.''

Capt. Ben Wolfinger said he knew of no new resurgence of LSD use recently, ``but as school starts, it's something we need to be cautious of.''

The flier had a long, strange trip before it wound up in North Idaho.

Versions of the warning have been cropping up in police stations, day-care centers and schools for the last 15 years, according to folklore chroniclers. Dave Gross, a software engineer in California, has devoted several Web pages on the Internet to the ``Blue Star'' legend.

Gross claims the myth has gained steam with the advent of the worldwide computer information network.

``The legend is stronger than ever,'' Gross writes. ``New, virulent strains appear and spread with astounding speed now that they've infected the Internet.''

Norm Mahoney, Coeur d'Alene schools' drug education coordinator, said he's seen similar fliers ``every year I've been on the job.''

``And I've seen some parents get very alarmed when they see it,'' he added. ``What's the purpose, except to create some sort of hysteria?''

In 1992, warnings began citing an expert named J. O'Donnell of Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Conn. The hospital is used to calls asking for the non-existent O'Donnell.

``This is a hoax,'' said Linda Wiseman, a spokesperson for Danbury Hospital. ``They come in cycles. We've had hundreds and hundreds of calls from all over the globe.''

Spokane is no stranger to the mysterious warning.

``This happens once or twice a year for the last four or five years that I know of,'' said Lt. Steve Braun with the police department's Special Investigation Unit. ``I don't know that there's any validity to it.''

The warning does contain some elements of truth.

LSD is commonly sold on blotter paper that can be decorated with cartoon characters and other colorful designs.

Federal Drug Enforcement Agency agents in Boise and Spokane said they had not heard of the ``tattoo'' version. LSD is normally ingested by putting it on the tongue.

And while the DEA agents use gloves to handle LSD, some drug and poison experts say that's rarely necessary.

``The skin is very durable. Even if you touched liquid LSD, you wouldn't get any absorption,'' said Alicia Aumentado, a health education coordinator with the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center. The center has received many inquiries as a result of the warning, which has surfaced now and then in Cincinnati.

The last instance was two years ago, when the flier was printed on city health department stationery.

``That whole letter is filled with misinformation,'' Aumentado said. She added that while strychnine is used to dilute white powder drugs, such as heroin or crank, it is not used with LSD.

The flier does ring true in its sense of urgency. LSD use is on the rise nationally and locally, Mahoney said.

But, ``whoever started this letter is really overzealous,'' Aumentado said.