The Washington area's affluence and its access to Dulles International Airport have combined to turn the region into a flourishing market for illicit drugs, a congressional committee was told yesterday.

An undercover police officer who was a principal figure in a recent major Northern Virginia cocaine trial, told members of the House Select Committee on Narcotics that he "had no trouble" selling as much as $250,000 worth of cocaine a week in the area.

What's more, Michael E. Hubbard, a D.C. police officer, testified, the sales were made easier by the widespread belief among the region's more wealthy residents that cocaine use was legal.

"I couldn't convince them that it was illegal," Hubbard said. "Upper class people were of the impression that cocaine was acceptable because of all the (drug) paraphernalia they could (legally) buy."

Northern Virginia prosecutor JustinW. Williams agreed with Hubbard that the area's affluence has spurred drug usage. The ability of many people to pay the going local price for cocaine -- $85 to $100 a gram -- accounts for much of the drug traffic here, he told the committee.

In past years, Williams said much of the area's cocaine would arrive at Dulles on a commercial airline flight from Bolivia that carried so many drug couriers that the flight was dubbed "the cocaine express" by law enforcement officials. Couriers were arrested at Dulles with cocaine in their shoes and the lining of their clothes he said.

Hubbard said that the use of cocaine is so widespread in the Washington area that investigators are finding that its users frequently are experimenting with the drugs.

Insead of only sniffing the powdery white substance, Washington users are "freebasing" or smoking the drug, and "speedballing" it, or mixing it with heroin before injecting it into their bodies, the officer said.

David G. canady, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Washington office, said efforts to slow cocaine traffic in the area have met with little success. "Unlike heroin, it is hard to see any decrease in availability of cocaine after a drug raid," he said.

Rep. Tennyson Guyer (R-Ohio), charman of the committee's Cocaine Task Force, said yesterday's hearings had been called to "dispel the notion that cocaine is a harmless drug." He said previous testimony had shown that death can occur from cocaine overdoses.

The committee heard yesterday from two admitted drug abusers who said they had found cocaine easily available in New York City, Denver, Dallas, and New Orleans.

The testimony about the availability of drugs in the Washington area was voiced before an intent committee. One sign of the widespread popularity of cocaine among area high school students, asserted Rep. Robert Dornan (R-Calif.) is the "disgusting head shop" he visited in suburban Virginia which features devices for cutting, snorting, sniffing, and storing cocaine.

"It was located behind a popular record store frequented by high school students," he said. "But they are not the only ones buying such things.

I've seen a special razor blade, used for cutting cocaine, being worn by some congressional staffers," Dornan said.