"We're the acid kings of the world."
Bill, a high school dropout from Anne Arundel County, proudly introduces himself and a group of his friends.
"You're in acid capital," he continues. "There's a lot of drug here, and acid's the main one."
Bill would know. He hasn't used drugs since his discharge several months ago from a rehabilitation program, he says. But for years LSD was his drug of choice and he talks about that period in his life with little regret.
"I was constantly eating acid," said the 18-year-old who asked that his full name not be used. "I tripped every day for a year and a half. From the first time, I really loved it. I did it at home, at work, at school."
Lysergic acid diethylamide may be a popular symbol of the psychedelic '60s but to think of it as a relic of the past is to ignore what is happening today, and what has been a continuous presence on the drug scene since the mid-'60s, say people involved with drug treatment, law enforcement and youth culture.
LSD use today seems to be primarily concentrated among young people -- and particularly among young people in the suburbs.
"It's a drug of youth," says Bill Ruzinko, chief of management and information services for the state's drug abuse administration. "It might have something to do with the quality of living on the edge, the recklessness of youth."
"We've gotten all kinds of reports about LSD," said Mike Gimbel, director of the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse. "We're hearing that LSD is everywhere." Since September five students have been expelled from Baltimore County schools because of LSD, he added.
Consider some recent statistics:
* The Drug Enforcement Administration sounded a new alert last month, releasing statistics that showed more high school students are using LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs than cocaine or crack.
* The National Institute of Drug Abuse's biennial household survey of drug use, released last month, showed that, while overall drug use by teens is down, the use of hallucinogens has increased slightly.
And an increasing number of teen-agers in Maryland's drug treatment programs are reporting LSD as one of the drugs they use, according to Mr. Ruzinko, of the state's drug abuse administration. In contrast, fewer teens in treatment report using marijuana and cocaine than in previous years.
Use of the drug is concentrated in the suburbs, say those familiar with the drug, and part of its appeal is its price -- usually $5 a dose or lower. While drug treatment professionals agree that LSD does not seem to be physiologically addictive, they point to dangers of flashbacks -- recurring hallucinations long after use -- and a tendency for users to take other drugs. "LSD is often combined with other drugs, particularly alcohol and marijuana," said Trish Gaffney, clinical director of outpatient recovery services for Sheppard Pratt Hospital.
Indeed police records confirm LSD's popularity -- and that its use seems to be concentrated in the suburbs. Recent seizures and arrests have been at Westminster High School in Carroll County, George Fox Middle School and Old Mill High School in Anne Arundel County, in Ocean City, in Columbia, in Ellicott City, in Wicomico County.
School officials in those jurisdictions say they are concerned about LSD, but add that alcohol abuse is a bigger problem. "LSD was a drug we didn't see for a while but it seems to be pretty available now," said Mary Gable, principal at Old Mill. "We see it as a resurgence, and students don't seem to think it's something to be concerned about and that concerns us."
In Fairfax County, Va. -- where last September six men were accused of selling more than 100,000 doses of LSD in a high school -- parents, teachers and administrators reportedly had no idea that such a huge drug trade was going on.
But the news certainly came as no surprise to Bill and his friends in Pasadena. "I kept half the county high," he boasts. And he was but one of many suppliers he knows of, he says. Bill and his friends exchange amused looks when asked if LSD is easy to find. He offers an analogy: "Can you go buy gum in a store?"
But Bill's parents were unaware of his drug use until he had dipped into their bank accounts for $3,000 (using ATM cards they trusted himwith) and exhibited marked personality changes. knew nothing about drugs; we didn't understand what was going on," his mother said with regret. "We thought we were dealing with a psychopath."
Their neighborhood, with its upscale homes, manicured yards and quiet roads, is a contrast to what has become the stereotypical concept of a drug neighborhood in the inner city.
"You see LSD in the middle class, you see it in private schools," Mr. Gimbel says. "With a lot of these suburban kids today, there's this tremendous interest in the '60s. They talk about how wonderful the '60s were, they're wearing tie-dye, they love the Grateful Dead, they look like a real resurgence of hippies."
But don't make the mistake of thinking the hippie-looking kids are the only ones in the suburbs who use LSD, warns Caroline, a 15-year-old Dulaney High School student who tripped several times a week until seeing friends having bad trips scared her into giving it up. She claims that more than three-quarters of her friends at school have at least tried the drug.
"There is no one type of person," said Caroline (who also asked that her full name not be used). "I know a girl who is totally prep. She does it. A lot of jocks do it. The people who are into heavy metal, they do it. The ones who take all G. T. [gifted and talented] classes, they do it. Everybody, everybody does it."
But city youth express bewilderment about the appeal of the drug.
"I just can't understand why you'd want to do that stuff," said Alan, 17, who used heroin, marijuana, cocaine and alcohol before he became a patient at the Oakview Treatment Center in Ellicott City. "It's not in my world. Just listen to the name -- acid. If one of my buddies told me he was doing acid, I'd say, 'What for?' "
Dave Ennis, director of Oakview's adolescent program, is not surprised at the dichotomy. "In inner city areas, you want to kill the pain," he explained. "So the inner city kids do heroin. The kids in the suburbs want to alter their reality, because they're bored to death."
Ms. Gaffney, from Sheppard Pratt, has found young people usually have a different attitude about LSD than they do about other drugs.
"The experience lasts eight to 10 hours, so it's not a drug that people take and then go out and have a normal day," she explained. "They tend to plan their day around it. Taking it is a big event. In that sense they respect it."
But, she quickly added, teens have a "casual" attitude about the possible dangers of LSD and that is cause for concern.
"Kids are basically not afraid of LSD. Most haven't had a bad experience," she says. "I don't hear kids admitting that they've had problems with LSD. Which is scary."