The grass-roots approach to combating drug and alcohol abuse in the region received a significant financial boost yesterday in the form of federal grants, including almost $1 million for the District alone.

Announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan and William J. Bennett, the nation's drug policy director, the Community Partnership Demonstration Grants will give financial backing to those who know the problem firsthand: local organizations.

The 95 groups nationwide that will share $42 million will receive the grants directly, marking the first time that the federal government has placed money in the pockets of local partnerships and circumvented the bureaucracy of the block-grant system.

"Let the traffickers and drug dealers take note of what we do here today," Sullivan said at a news conference attended by many of the grant recipients. "They may fear the police, but they should fear an angry and active community even more."

Of the 95 grants, the largest single award was to the nonprofit Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, which got $980,650. The Montgomery County Health Department also got one of the biggest grants, $702,629, and the Alliance for a Drug-Free Annapolis got $272,583.

The consortium, formed in 1964 and including 12 area universities and colleges, has developed a ward-oriented program for the District. With an emphasis on preventing drug and alcohol abuse through education, the program will bring together established neighborhood groups, business leaders, clerics and schools in each ward.

Monte P. Shepler, the consortium's president and chief executive officer, said the ward-based approach answered a critical question: How to bring together those who truly know the District's problems block by block.

"A lot of these organizations were already in place," said Shepler, whose first task is to search for a full-time project director. "We didn't have to wave a magic wand to create this thing."

Bennett Connelly, chief of Montgomery County's Division of Children and Youth Services, said the grant will be used to set up anti-drug community groups in Silver Spring, Wheaton and Gaithersburg. Each was chosen because there are areas of drug activity and residents are willing to fight back, he said.

"It's called neighborhood empowerment. We're trying to encourage people to take more responsibility for what goes on in their communities," said Connelly, "It is a recognition that government can't do it alone."

Other Maryland organizations to receive grants yesterday include a task force established by Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to coordinate city drug prevention programs, $504,993; a Cecil Community College project to coordinate drug prevention programs in Cecil County, $290,943; and a drug prevention partnership between Annapolis and the Alliance for a Drug-Free Annapolis, $272,583. In Virginia, Hampton received $385,613.

Kathy Miller, chairwoman of the Alliance for a Drug-Free Annapolis, said her organization intends to use part of the grant to send drug counselors and other experts into drug-afflicted neighborhoods.