The recent outbreak of heroin overdose deaths has awakened many people to the frightening pervasiveness of drugs in our city. Heroin -- not marijuana, not LSD, not amphetamines, but HEROIN -- can be bought in the District of Columbia the way some items are purchased in supermarkets. Indeed, some claim our city has become a hard drug supermarket, with at least 12,500 customers every day.

Because heroin addiction is inevitably connected to other crimes committed by addicts to maintain their habits, some Washingtonians are beginning to feel that the only way they can protect themselves is to buy guns. "The police can't protect me and my family from violent crime or enforce drug laws," concluded one resident last week. "I have to do it myself." Of course, this solution to the problem raises other dangers.

But the problem of addiction is not merely related to crime. In "oil joints" and shooting galleries, there is an even more morally heinous crime taking place. Little children, whose parents may or may not be addicts or dealers, are being subjected to the daily horrors and bizarre life styles of the brutal drug world.

The police seem powerless to stop the problem. "We realize that we can't stop it," Capt. James Nestor of the D.C. Narcotics Task Force said last week. "The best we can do is put a hurting on those who use it."

For too long, residents of the District of Columbia, like other urban residents all across the land, have depended on their fire department to deal with fires, their sanitation department to deal with garbage, and their police force to deal with crime. But in dealing with the complex problems of today, that approach to problem solving goes out the window.

The current drug epidemic and the formidable drug underworld that has emerged cannot be dealt with in that manner. The time has come for all of us to become policemen if we are to protect one of our most basic freedoms: that of walking safely down the street.

Right now the balance of power is on the side of the drug dealers, helped in part by a still-ailing judicial system that must share the blame. To correct this imbalance, elected officials along with the police and members of the private sector must rededicate themselves to helping District residents dig themselves out of the criminal quagmire infesting our streets.

One group of District residents has begun to move in that direction already. Funded by the Eisenhower Foundation, the Adams-Morgan Anti-Crime and Fear Reduction Program uses youth and adult residents of the community to battle crime. Along with neighborhood organizing, family strengthening seminars and job creation efforts, it also provides crime prevention education seminars and a drug crackdown program, but does not include guns or violence.

Making clear that his 2-year-old organization, which operates in the heart of one of the city's four major heroin markets, is involved in an ongoing struggle, director Bob Boulter says, "Our program is one device that with a great deal of communty involvement can, over time, build the kind of trust relationships to help the communitiy regain its proper strength and become again a safe place for people and families to live."

This program is neither left nor right of the political spectrum, but rather a potentially useful solution to a monstrous problem. It recognizes not only the need to deal with drugs and their use as symptoms of other problems, but also focuses on the immediate problem of community safety.

But it is not just the neighborhoods where drugs are so prevalent that need to take on this philosophy; all residents of the District of Columbia must take more of a role in securing their communities -- not as vigilantes, but by demanding action from city officials and making it clear that they will not tolerate a police department that is willing to tolerate the city becoming a hard drug supermarket.

As an old saying puts it, all it takes for evil men to prosper is for good men to do nothing. All it takes for our children to have to go to school in the midst of danger is for us to turn our backs and allow drug trafficking on our streets to prosper. There is no way an individual or groups of individuals should be openly selling drugs on our streets. No way.