For the last several months, frightening notices have popped up in schools, day-care centers and hospital emergency rooms throughout Southern California warning that the mind-altering drug LSD is being sold in the form of rub-on tattoos shaped like blue stars or cartoon characters.
The flyers, written anonymously and in virtually the same language, claim that the brightly colored paper tabs soaked in LSD are a "new way of selling acid by appealing to our young children." In numerous communities in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties, parents panicked by the notices are calling police and reporting that their children are coming home with tattoos of Superman and Mickey Mouse on their bodies.
A menacing drug plot threatening schoolchildren?
Or another urban folk tale of mysterious origin?
Law enforcement authorities, long aware of adults employing cute rub-on characters as a furtive way of selling and using LSD, say they are not sure. They cannot recall a single case of an unsuspecting child coming in contact with an LSD-laced tattoo.
"I haven't seen LSD in the streets in years," said Riverside County Sheriff's Detective Carla Gordon. "We don't know the source of the notice. We don't know the purpose."
'Side of Extreme Caution'
But Gordon, like several other narcotics detectives, was unwilling to dismiss the flyers as a hoax. "With drugs, if you're going to err, it's better to do so on the side of extreme caution."
The 10-paragraph flyer begins "ATTENTION PARENTS" and states that "the Valley Children's Hospital and the Police Department have informed us that there is another danger in our community." The warning--never identifying the children's hospital or the police department by city--is written in such a general way that it could apply to virtually any community. It strikes an alarming tone, alerting parents that their children could unwittingly encounter the drug-laced tattoos. Licking the tabs or placing them on their moist skin could be enough to absorb the drug and cause a "fatal trip." "These drugs are known to react very quickly and some are laced with strychnine," the flyer concludes.
Rosa L. McDow said she was frightened when her 7-year-old son brought home a copy of the flyer last week from the Normandie Christian School in South-Central Los Angeles. "He's always going to the store to get candy and a sticker. He used things before that stick on his arms and forehead."
The school's principal, King Walker, said he was handed the notice by one of his teachers and sent copies home with the 175 primary school-age children. "I felt that if it was something that concerned the safety and well-being of our students, then the parents ought to know about it," he explained.
The flyer worked its way through the school and medical community and gained credibility along the way even though several people who photocopied the flyer had doubts about its veracity.
One of the notices that reached parents in Culver City arrived by way of the Kindercare Day Care Center in Simi Valley.
Sent to Hospital Council
In August, a parent whose child attends the day-care center gave a copy of the notice to teachers there. One copy was posted, and a second copy was mailed to the Hospital Council of Southern California, a Los Angeles trade association that represents about 220 hospitals in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Ventura, San Bernardino and Santa Barbara counties.
David Langness, the association's vice president of communications, said the warning was then mailed to all member hospitals. "When we hear about these things, we don't attempt to confirm or deny them," he said. "We simply send it out to emergency rooms across the region in case they see a medical problem associated with this kind of drug."
At Long Beach Community Hospital, the warning gained further weight in the form of a "drug alert" contained in an Aug. 20 news item mailed to all hospital personnel. After receiving the news item, the spouse of one hospital worker photocopied it and took it to work in Culver City.
That is when it fell into the hands of Anna Rincon, who works at a local day-care center and as a security guard at Culver City High School. "I Xeroxed it and gave a copy to the high school and the day-care center. Now they're both posted."
Several school administrators in Los Angeles and Orange counties decided against sending copies of the flyers home, saying they had received identical letters from time to time over the past decade.
"In 1982, we got the same letter and sent copies of it home," said Neil Jennings, assistant superintendent at Hawthorne School District. "We decided against that this time because we're not sure if it's a hoax or not.