KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Drugs shaped like popular cartoon characters including Snoopy and Transformers are showing up in Kansas City, and local officials are worried that children could mistake the dangerous tablets for vitamins or candy.
Drug dealers are marketing the pills as Ecstasy, but law enforcement officials said the tablets often don't contain any Ecstasy but rather a combination of other drugs. Tests generally find drugs that treat stomach parasites, but methamphetamine and heroin have been detected.
They can cause seizures, spiked blood pressure and heart rate, even death among children, said H. Westley Clark, director of the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.
The brightly colored pills have turned up shaped like President Obama's head, along with Homer and Bart Simpson, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other characters. Experts say the pills target teens and young adults to promote the drug as light fun, rather than a dangerous experiment.
"Someone leaves this around ... kids pick them up and boom," Clark said.
Clark said that while dealers are advertising their drugs as Ecstasy, most of the cartoon-shaped tablets are made up of other drugs. About half tested in Kansas City and Johnson County, Kan., over the last year were combinations of drugs used to treat stomach parasites and have effects similar to Ecstasy. The most common variation is called BZP, which is banned by the federal government and illegal in many countries.
Balerie Kamb, supervisor at the Johnson County crime lab, said BZP use has skyrocketed over the past couple of years.
"We're surprised now when we get (Ecstasy) instead of BZP," she said.
The same thing has happened in states like Ohio, where labs first found the worm-killer drugs in January 2008. More than half of the pills tested this year in that state were BZP and not Ecstasy.
An Ohio report said some users call Ecstasy a "surprise high" because they never know what they're getting or how strong it will be. Sometimes drugs like caffeine, methamphetamine and heroin get into the pills.
Clark said bad dosages and quality control can make people sick from bacteria or chemical contamination.
"You're playing Russian roulette with these pills," Kamb said.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)