The war on drugs is being lost and a great toll is being taken in lives and property. The community safety is being threatened not only by crazed junkies operating under the influence of drugs, but also by murderous profiteers operating under the influence of greed.

After years of trying almost every possible solution to this problem, only one thing is left to try: legalizing drugs, not just heroin and marijuana, but all dope, including cocaine.

The argument against legalization is that it would give tacit approval to drug use, and possibly turn countless people into addicts.

But with drugs so plentiful and so cheap, and with laws on drug use virtually unenforceable, that message is already out.

Consider where the real problem lies: profits.

You can go to Miami today and buy one ounce of relatively pure cocaine for $600. There are 28 grams in an ounce. When you add another ounce of any white powdered substance as "cut," you have 56 grams of "cocaine" that can be sold on the streets of Washington for $100 a gram.

You would think that the dealer would be satisfied and stop there. But no. You can take a gram of cocaine, cook it up into 20 itty-bitty chunks of "crack" and sell each bit for $10.

We're talking about at least a $11,200 return on a $600 investment -- within a week, sometimes overnight. Little wonder that while D.C. police are engaged in drug sweep operations, they occasionally come across a teen-ager driving an expensive car, sometimes with large sums of money and, in one case, $250,000, stashed in the trunk.

The economics of this stuff is incredible, and in the thinking of many drug dealers, well worth the risk of being caught for killing somebody who stands in the way.

More than half of the nearly 100 slayings in the District this year have been drug related, according to law enforcement officials. Most of these killings have been the result of drug deals gone sour and battles among rival dealers.

"It's staggering," said U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova. "It's a sign of the intense competition that exists among organizations in the neighborhood drug dealing business."

DiGenova is probably one of the last people on earth who would want to see drugs legalized. It is his belief that this would be a "cop-out" in the face of a threat that requires more resources for law enforcement.

"The murders and the deaths demonstrate clearer than anything can, how wrong it is for people to think that drugs is a victimless crime," he said. "We've seen as a result of overdose deaths and drug-related murders that that isn't the case."

People who live in the neighborhoods where drugs are a problem never thought that drugs were victimless. What they can't understand is why, with all the government resources currently being directed at drug abuse, does the problem only worsen.

The answer is as clear as the dollar bills in the drug man's hand. But the illegal drug business also has a catch that makes it more exciting than, say, getting a legitimate job.

"For lack of a better term, it's the punk factor," said Capt. Larry Soulsby, commander of the city's homicide squad. "You've got younger guys playing the macho bit. They carry a big gun and a lot of times they react violently without thinking of consequences. They are killing people for very small amounts of drugs and money."

It is this underground economic system that is at the root of the drug abuse problem in this area. It is the one area against which law enforcement is totally ineffective because there is simply too much money involved.

The only way to attack the problem successfully, in the wake of failures of all other attempts, is to take the profit out of drugs, at least stop the drug-related killings, mugging and burglaries of innocent people.

Only then will the community be in a frame of mind to seriously consider dealing with the problems of the drug addict.