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LSD making a comeback, police say

LSD, the mind-altering drug that had its heyday in the late 1960s, is becoming the drug of choice for some people who weren't even born then. Suncoast police agencies report a steady increase in the use of LSD, especially on high school campuses. In May, Clearwater police seized 600 doses, called hits, from a 15-year-old Clearwater High student.

Police said he received the drug in the mail and planned to sell it at area high schools. It was not an isolated incident:

In one arrest last November, Largo police seized 1,000 doses of LSD, also known as acid. "This was an adult getting it from out of state to distribute to 18- and 19-year-olds," said Detective Sgt. Ned Karatonis. "They were doing the selling."

Pasco County sheriff's detectives arrested a teen-ager last fall when he tried to sell 12 hits of LSD at a high school. Last year, 416 doses of LSD were seized by sheriff's detectives in Pasco.

In April, Tampa undercover detectives made several arrests and seized about 200 hits from people loitering around public schools.

Some Hillsborough sheriff's detectives found 1,481 doses of LSD in October during an investigation of a cocaine dealer. So far this year, they have seized 90 LSD doses.

In 1983, Pinellas law enforcement agencies handled nine LSD cases. Last year, they investigated 68.

Statistics don't always tell the whole story of the drug's increased use, said Jim Silbert, chemical section supervisor at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) laboratory in Tampa.

"It's out there, and although by the stats you can't prove it, the symptoms are that it's on the rise," Silbert said. "The dosages may be weakened somewhat from what they were in the '60s, but it is definitely out there."

Almost all of the LSD seized in the Tampa Bay area has been blotter acid, or doses of the drug deposited on sheets of paper that are separated into doses. Often the paper has intricate designs or depicts characters such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Bart Simpson. Sometimes the drug is put on baseball cards.

The drug is easily absorbed from the paper, which is eaten or licked, and quickly enters the bloodstream.

LSD, which stands for lysergic acid diethylamide, first was synthesized by a Swiss chemist in 1938. In the late 1960s, the drug's hallucinogenic properties made it popular with the psychedelic culture.

The drug temporarily changes the chemistry of the brain and interpretations of sensory perceptions, creating an experience called a trip that can last eight hours or longer. A trip can be pleasant or frightening.

A person later may relive a trip in a terrifying flashback. LSD has different effects on different people, and some researchers think the drug can cause mental illness or birth defects.

Area law enforcement officials say LSD seems to be most popular among people in their late teens to early 20s.

"It's mostly younger people," said Frank Prioli, a Pinellas sheriff's narcotics detective. "People who realize what went on with LSD in the 1960s have a fear factor. Kids now just don't have that fear factor."

The drug is easily produced in a laboratory by anyone with knowledge of chemistry. But detectives think most of the LSD in the Tampa Bay area is produced elsewhere _ possibly in California or North Florida.

"We really can't tell at this point exactly where it's coming from, but some may be manufactured by college students," said Hillsborough sheriff's Lt. James Tagliarini. "There has been some information that biker gangs deal in LSD."

LSD may entice drug abusers because it is easy to conceal and use, it's not a major target for drug investigators, and it's cheap. A single dose can cost $3 to $10.

Another reason for the drug's resurgence could be the fear of the potency of crack cocaine, said Maj. J.

M. "Mickey" Stepanov, commander of the St. Petersburg police vice and narcotics section.

LSD, however, is not yet a high priority in the drug war.

"You have to understand that we're out there now for crack and cocaine. If we come across LSD, we work the case," Tagliarini said. "Most police agencies are reactive and work on whichever problem is the worst. Right now we're dealing with crack and marijuana."

Most drug-related arrests in the state involve cocaine and marijuana, according to FDLE statistics. During the first nine months of 1990, there were 33,609 arrests for cocaine, 18,706 for marijuana and 360 for hallucinogens, which include LSD and other drugs.

A drug use study in Pinellas schools last year showed a slight increase in the use of LSD, but no alarming trend has developed, possibly because the drug is easy to conceal, said Linda Jones, director of drug abuse prevention for schools.

"We were warned about LSD coming back a year ago, but we haven't seen any or made any arrests on campus," said Pinellas campus police Capt. Joe Feraca. "Drugs do seem to cycle; they do not go away. Sometimes the drug corresponds to fashions or the mood of culture. It's kind of scary."