Drugs shaped like Snoopy, Transformers and President Obama's head recently have shown up on the streets, adding to a trend that worries...

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Drugs shaped like Snoopy, Transformers and President Obama’s head recently have shown up on the streets, adding to a trend that worries police and health experts.

Colorful Ecstasy pills started showing up last year shaped as Homer and Bart Simpson, Ninja Turtles and other characters. As more of the pills that look like vitamins or candy go out locally and nationwide, they put children at great risk, police and experts said.

“Someone leaves this around … kids pick them up and boom,” said H. Westley Clark, director of the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. The result could be seizures, a spiked blood pressure and heart rate and even death, he said.

In May, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials in Nevada sent out warnings that the cartoon pills were in Las Vegas. Dealers there call Ecstasy “Thizz” and market it to minors, the DEA warned. They also said they had found pills shaped like Ninja Turtles, Transformers and other “Simpsons” characters.

Also in May, police in Utah busted a drug ring and found 500 Ecstasy pills stamped in the shape of Obama and Snoopy.

The cartoon-character marketing is a ploy to promote a dangerous drug as light fun to sell to more teens and young adults, Clark said. The tablets often contain no Ecstasy at all but instead a powerful mix of other drugs, police said.

For more than a year, about half the so-called Ecstasy pills tested at labs in Kansas City and Johnson County, Kan., have turned out not to be Ecstasy. They were a combination of other drugs once used to treat stomach parasites that have effects and dangers similar to Ecstasy.

The shaped tablets are more likely to be fake than flat tablets sold as Ecstasy, drug experts said.

Ecstasy tends to crumble and does not press as easily as the piperazine family of drugs once used to kill stomach worms, said Zachary Skinner, a forensic chemist at the Kansas City Police Department crime lab.

It takes a combination of two variations of piperazine to get the Ecstasy effects, he said. This combination surfaced in New Zealand in the 1990s as “legalX,” but many countries have since criminalized BZP, one of the variations.

BZP is illegal under federal law. In the United States, there are no comprehensive numbers on deaths, but reports from cities in eight states found Ecstasy was involved in 50 deaths in 2005, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Usage has been on the decline nationally: Americans older than 12 who said they had taken it in the past year dropped from a high of 3.2 million in 2002 to just over 2 million in 2007.