In the early 1980s, while serving as an assistant state's attorney in Prince George's County, William Missouri prosecuted scores of drug cases, most of them involving the sale and possession of marijuana and PCP.

But since Missouri was appointed to the District Court bench in 1985, the drug cases presented in Prince George's courtrooms have changed, he said. Marijuana cases seldom come before him. Cases involving PCP, a hallucinogen once so popular that county officials often referred to Prince George's as the "PCP capital of Maryland," seem to have reached a plateau, the judge said.

The latest drug of choice, Missouri said, is cocaine.

"When I was a prosecutor, the guy who worked at McDonald's didn't buy cocaine," Missouri said in a recent interview. "Now, based on what defendants tell me they do for a living, people who receive {welfare payments} and people who work for a minimum wage buy cocaine. The increase among those groups has been dramatic."

Cocaine use in Prince George's was analyzed in a report presented to the County Council last week by a Task Force on Cocaine Abuse of the county's Addictions Advisory Council. Missouri was among 18 county residents -- including educators, police officers, corrections officials, lawyers, drug counselors and health care workers -- who produced the 150-page document and listed 14 recommendations for the County Council to consider to combat cocaine use.

Although the task force found it difficult to document the amount of cocaine being used in the county, it found that the number of people arrested for selling or possessing cocaine accounted for 24 percent of all drug-related arrests in 1986, up slightly from 21 percent in 1985.

Drug arrests in the county increased 17 percent in 1986 compared with 1985, the report said.

And although a majority of arrests for cocaine possession or distribution still occur inside the Capital Beltway -- 75 percent in 1986 and 78 percent in 1985 -- arrests involving cocaine are spreading to areas farther from the District of Columbia, according to the report.

As part of its research, the task force conducted a survey at the county's old jail facility in November. Ten percent of the inmate population -- about 70 inmates -- were asked to respond to a questionnaire about their use of drugs. Half of those polled were incarcerated for violent crimes, half for nonviolent crimes.

Of all inmates responding to the survey, 89 percent said they had used cocaine.

The average amount of cocaine reportedly used each week by the inmates was 8.4 grams, with an average weekly cost of about $800.

The task force's report suggested that "housebreaking, receiving stolen goods, burglary and welfare fraud . . . seem to be {methods} used to support the costs associated with this drug involvement."

Missouri said he sees evidence of the relationship between cocaine addiction and theft almost daily.

"In May, I had a woman before me on a bond hearing for a shoplifting charge," Missouri said. "I asked her several times what {drug} she was on, and she maintained that she wasn't an addict. Finally, she admitted to using cocaine and heroin.

"I asked her how often she used the drugs. She said, 'I have to have it at least three times a day, every day.' I hear that much too often."

The task force's recommendations included that the county provide more funding for substance abuse services to increase the number of beds for in-house treatment and to provide detoxification services for people who do not have health insurance.

The report calls for the county to establish a 25-bed halfway house for people leaving jail or hospitals so that those people can begin recovery in a drug-free environment.

Drug education should be made mandatory in public schools through high school, the report said. Other education efforts should be aimed at criminal justice workers and parents.

Also, the task force said that the county should offer employe assistance programs to all county employes. Currently, only police officers, firefighters, corrections officers and public school employes have public drug counseling services available to them.

County Council Chairwoman Hilda R. Pemberton said at the council meeting that the council will take the recommendations under consideration.