HOLYOKE, MASS., NOV. 24 -- Drug addicts trying to scrape up quick cash in this struggling mill city are turning to the unusual plunder of disposable diapers, baby formula and Tylenol, police said.

Addicts in Los Angeles are likely to grab car stereos while in Miami, aluminum awnings and copper wire are snagged by those looking for ready money, police there said.

"The times keep changing on what's the hot items. I suppose it's like the fashion world," Holyoke Police Capt. Richard C. Page said.

Reports of disappearing diapers at area pharmacies and supermarkets started about six weeks ago, said Page, head of the bureau of investigations in Holyoke, an old factory city of 60,000 that has fallen on hard times.

"We've been noticing a real pattern of it," he said. "We started talking to some of the people that we deal with and they said that's the thing to take. Everybody will buy it."

The thefts are not sophisticated, Page said. "This time of year, it's so busy, you can walk out the door with a cart with three or four cases of baby formula. If challenged, they just walk away from the cart or run off," Page said.

The diapers can net as much as 50 cents on the dollar, said Page, much higher than the usual 10 or 15 cents on stolen goods. The goods are sold on the street or to small stores that are not choosy about the merchandise's origins, he said.

Although some major metropolitan police departments such as those in New York and Detroit said they have not noticed trends in thefts by drug addicts, others had, saying the predominant items are hard to trace and easy to unload.

"Most people out here, what they rip off tend to be car stereos to turn a profit for their narcotic trade," said Officer Don Lawrence, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Police said addict thefts became noticeable over the past decade. "What we're getting is a lot of them are stealing aluminum and copper. They steal aluminum awnings off the buildings and copper wiring," Miami Police Department spokesman Bobby Navarro said.

In New Bedford, a once prosperous Massachusetts port, addicts seem to be stealing guns, mainly from houses, Sgt. James Sylvia said.

Although hard-to-trace items are the usual target, there are exceptions, police said.

"We've had people from time

to time, the news crews who are out covering news at particular locations, for whatever reason turn their back on unloading their camera, turn around and the whole camera's gone. These guys are going for whatever they can

get their hands on," Lawrence said.