Saturday, 20 April 2013

Blue Star tattoos - another urban myth

I have been totally blown away by the number of people who have accessed my blog through the entry on 'Strawberry Quik' - the urban myth around methamphetamine supposedly flavoured to entice young people. The Facebook warning pops up occasionally via someone's page and thank goodness some sensible people are going to the web to try and access some accurate information.

Another urban myth that I thought was long gone was around the so-called 'Blue Star' tattoo.

Stories about drug manufacturers and dealers targeting very young children have been around for many years. The ‘Blue Star’ tattoo myth is possibly the most famous of these and goes back to 1980, although some say the story was circulating earlier than that. There was a time when I was responding to queries about this every couple of months, particularly in the late 1990s, but over the last few years it seemed to have gone quiet - that is until this week when I was contacted by a journalist who had heard from a 'source' that LSD-soaked tattoos were now available and being accessed by children in his area!

Back in the 80s this story usually hit the headlines after a local school or police station received a copy of a flyer (similar to the one above) warning that these tattoos were being given away to children in local schoolyards. In the 90s it became an email message that was received by a concerned citizen who then alerted the local media. Unfortunately, I have been unable to ascertain whether the 'source' that the journalist had received this information from had heard about this via an email or Facebook.
 
The information in the message can vary but usually says that the LSD can be absorbed through the skin by handling the tattoos. The tattoos are the same size as postage stamps and have been designed to attract very young people by depicting cartoon characters on them such as Superman. It goes on to say that these drugs are known to react very quickly and some are laced with strychnine. In fact, many children have already died from accidental ingestion of these tattoos. 
 
As with other warnings of this type, the message is usually signed off by a representative from a well-known government agency or hospital and to the na├»ve reader appears to be quite genuine. As I have stated before, these warning also stress that the reader must respond to the message as quickly as possible, i.e., a sense of urgency, and people receiving the alert are asked to pass on the email to as many people as possible.
 
Of course the information contained in the email is all completely untrue. In fact, if you take a little time to think about it, it simply doesn’t make sense. Why would drug manufacturers and dealers target the very young in the first place? They are most probably in the business to make money and would be looking for markets where they are able to do that without too much work. Primary school children do not usually have cash to spend on drugs. The whole idea of the dealers trying to get the very young 'hooked' on a substance so that they have a ready-made market in the future is quite ridiculous. How long are they prepared to wait? In fact, LSD is not even an addictive drug, so the story makes even less sense.
 
The concept of the 'drug pusher' is also quite problematic. It feeds into another myth, that of the evil drug dealer at the end of the schoolyard enticing young people in with his wares. The reality is that there is already a demand for illegal drugs and most people who sell them do not need to promote their product. In fact, most dealers would prefer to have a small number of regular 'clients' rather than a large number that they don't know particularly well. Having too many people knowing what you do increases your risk of getting caught.
 
The 'Blue Star' myth has been around for longer than most mainly because it has been regularly updated (in the 1980s the alerts claimed Mickey Mouse was depicted on the tattoos, in the 90s it became Bart Simpson) and also LSD is sold in the form of small paper squares, usually illustrated with a design of some sort, including cartoon characters. However, to the best of my knowledge, LSD is not available in either a tattoo or transfer form.

There are many theories about how this myth originated. One of the strongest is that it originates from a police report in the USA which referred to this marking of LSD as 'stamps' and noted that 'children may be susceptible to this type of cartoon stamp believing it a tattoo transfer'. Regardless of where it started from this type of story is very dangerous. It feeds into parents' fears and perpetuates misinformation.

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