ONLY 10 YEARS ago, this city made great inroads into the problem of drug addiction. A heroin panic forced thousands of addicts into treatment and, within three years, the city's crime rate was cut in half.

Today, Washington is suffering from the worst heroin epidemic in its history. The crime rate has been curbed, not through treatment, but by jamming drug addicts into the city's jail and prisons to the bursting point -- with D.C. Mayor Marion Barry adding to this already immense problem just last week. The police and the courts have no useful tools available to try to reconquer the problem that was already "solved" a decade ago. The war on drugs is being fought with little more than rhetoric and raids, neither of which solves much.

There are, according to official estimates, 16,500 drug addicts in Washington -- more than there have ever been in this city's history, certainly more than the 12,000 estimated addicts of the last major drug epidemic of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But, almost incredibly, as the addict population has multiplied, the number of treatment slots in drug rehabilitation programs has fallen by more than half -- from 4,700 in 1971 to 2,100 today. Last year, there were 115 overdose deaths in Washington, the highest rate per capita ever recorded.

There are unparalled quantities of heroin on the streets, despite millions of dollars spent by local and federal agencies to seize the shipments from Iran, Pakistan, China, Laos, Thailand, Burma and Mexico. In 11/2 years, a specially created police squad had made 4,000 drug arrests -- mostly small-time addicts hustling to support their own habits -- before .

"We know we're not going to stop them -- we know that -- but we try to slow it down," says a narcotics detective. "If all you do is go after the big dealers, pretty soon you can't walk 14th and W."

As a result, in the overcrowded D.C. jail, according to one physician, 70 to 76 percent of the inmates were drug abusers even before Mayor Barry's latest sweep. More judges are assigned to the criminal side of D.C. Superior Court than ever before while the number of backlogged cases has skyrocketed. And in a recent round of interviews and urinalysis tests, more than 60 percent of the inmates locked up at the Superior Court cellblock were identified as narcotics addicts.

The heroin now being sold is uncommonly pure by District standards. And the price is right: at $35 a quarter spoon, the junkie who once had a $200-a-day habit is now, relatively speaking, unencumbered with a $90 habit. So, police say, he doesn't have to break into two houses a day, only one.

Narcotics police credit the three Ps -- Plenty, Purity and Price -- at least in part for an 11 percent drop in the city's crime rate during the first quarter of this year as compared to last year.

And there may be one other explanation: what police call the juggler/holder concept, meaning that the man who sells the heroin probably doesn't hold it. More addicts are finding work in the drug dealing industry as steerers, holders, bodyguards and hawkers, and these new employes are all paid off in heroin. Thus one less reason to commit crimes.

I had a habit of two quarters a day. $150. I had to supplement it, even when I was working, and I did is, forgeries. If I had all the money from what I stole, I could buy a few houses on 16th St. Especially when Ie U.S. government checks. That's when the money really flowed. I liked them 'cause you can cash them anywhere.was a phony I.D.

-- Gregory A. Graves, serving 7 years,

9 months to 24 years at Lorton for

forgery, buarceny.

Today, the District government's drug rehabilitative efforts are a shambles. Some services are unnecessarily -- and unknowingly -- duplicated. There is no way of monitoring the add progress through the system once he enters it because the District has never designed a computer program to do this. There is no detoxification facility for any addict in this city who is witmedical insurance. By the District's own estimates, there are at least 11,000 untreated drug addicts now walking the streets, and are no plans to treat them.

Of the 450,000 or so heroin addicts across the country, 65,000 are on methadone, a synthetic narcotic that blsical cravings of heroin withdrawal without giving a heroin high. Theoretically, at least, methadone removes the pressure to commit crimes osis in order to feed the habit. In fact, a New York study, about to be published, has found that 75 percent of that state's 32,000 methadoneased their criminal activity following treatment.

"The fact is," says Robert DuPont, former director of both the Nati of Drug Abuse and the D.C. Narcotics Treatment Administration, "the only treatment that's going to work on a ethadone."

Police, however, look on methadone as little more than a stopgap measure. "It's an answer in thas," says Steven Finkelberg, a D.C. narcotics detective.

"The addict doesn't have to break into a house becay under the gun. But whether it's effective? I'd say that almost everybody we lock up is on methadone. Probablt of all arrests."

I went to the methadone clinics in the early '70s. What I did for that, I'd get a plastic Mennen shaving bottle and piss into that. I'd be giving upurine from a school kid on the street. Give 'im $5 for it. I'd turn around and squeeze the bottle into their c I was on parole I was shooting drugs every day and every day I'd go down to the parole board my urine was always clean. 'Cause I used that ttle trick.

-- James Lindsay, serving 8 to 24

years at Lorton for armed robbery,

forgery and uttering.

Alternatives to methadon few and far between. Residential treatment programs, mainly RAP and Second Genesis, boast modest success rates of 25 or 30 percent -- not baidering that more than half their clients walk out within the first week, but hardly encouraging in the overall picture. Furthermore, these s -- which last up to two years, provide education as well as therapy, and cost half of what it does to keep a man in prison -- have long waitts.

RAP and Second Genesis are the two largest residential treatment programs in Washington. Together, they can house 115 people, most of are referred by the courts. That represents a fraction of the drug addicts locked up at the D.C. jail, where -- before the Barry sweep -- up ercent of the 1,500 inmates had been identified as addicts following a medical examination upon their arrival.

Both RAP and Second Genesiighly structured programs that are sometimes "too hard" for their court-referred clients, many of whom opt to return to prison rather than submit to the 24-hour-a-day preo change.

"I've had people tell me they'd rather be in jail than here," says Ron Clark, director of RAP. "Because there's nothing you can't get in Lorton -- sex, drugs, you don'tto do anything. You don't have to go to classes if you don't want to."

America's war on drugs has been a war on crime since Richard Nixonheroin "Public Enemy No. 1." Government's rationale for financing treatment programs -- from methadone to New York City's Phoenix House -- long has been based on the relatibetween crime and drugs.

It is a chicken-and-egg kind of controversy: Which comes first, criminal behavior or drug abuse? And it has incited more than its share of political hypd scientific studies.

A recent study by the U.S. Department of Justice says one-third of 12,000 state prisoound the country in 1979 reported that they were high when they committed their crimes. Another study, funded by National Institute of Drug Abuse, followed 243 male heroin addicts in Baltimore for 11 years and found that they committed six times as many crimes during periods of addiction than they did during periods of abstinence.

Male addicts are held responsible for 42 million crimes a year across the country, adding up to $8 to $12 billion in property loss, according to another NIDA study. Police here blame them for a large porg, car break-ins, house burglaries and petty larcenies, but say they are not responsible "to any appreciable ebberies, muggings and violent confrontational crimes.

"Generally, the addict is more preyed upon than the ond," says Capt. Thomas C. Novak of the robbery branch. "At least in street crime. They're probably victimized at least or more than the extent to which they comrimes."

The dynamics of drug abuse have been in constant motion over the last 10 years and especially since 1979, when a resurgence of hewas first observed. During the heroin epidemic of the late '60s, the average addict in drug rehabilitation programs was a black man in his leens or early 20s undergoing treatment for the first time.

Today, the typical heroin addict in treatment is 28 -- and chances ars isn't his first attempt to go clean. The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Administration (ADASA), the umbrella agency for all city- run drug treatment programs, says its most successful client is the one entering treatmfor the third time.

In fact, there is some evidence that today's addicts are largely the same as yesterday'ion of junkies who have been reshuffled through periods of addiction and abstinence. A similar trend is reported in New York City, where the proportion of addicts over 30ears old has been climbing steadily from 31 percent in 1977 to more than 50 percent in 1982.

ADASA Administrator Alyce Gullattee is one o few authorities to dispute this "trend." She estimates that at least 3,000 addicts under 22 have escaped official counts in D.C. But NIDA reports that not one teen- ager has died of a heroin overdose here since 1978. (Population estimates of heroin argely upon overdose deaths.)

The Center for Disease Control has recently completed a study of the District's overdose deaths and concluded that many of the victims mave been a new kind of drug user -- not the hard-core, full-time users of the past. They were, on the average, people in their earlys who had begun using heroin at 19 or 20, then switched to alcohol when heroin became scarce and costly. Recently lured by a cheap and pure-grade hero appeared to be "chipping," using the drug sporadically, for recreation, at the time of their deaths. Autopsiepercent of them had positive levels of alcohol in their blood, leading James Ruttenber, the epidemiologist heastimate that heroin is 22 times more fatal when taken in combination with alcohol.

"Most of the success stopeople who go on methadone, start to drink wine and alcohol and wind up in Alcoholics Anonymous," says Joseph f information and referral for the Washington Area Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse. "AA is loaded with drug addicts."

The nature of drug abuse hically over the last decade, becoming what sociologists and police departments refer to as a problem of "polyaltiple drug use. In 1978, for example, hospitals around the country reported that 55 to 60 percent of all druges involved heroin in combination with other drugs. By 1982, that figure had soared to 85 percent.

I used coke by itself for maybe five years and Iscription drugs to bring me down. Eventually, the drugstore medication wasn't strong enough to bring me down fast enough. That's when I started doing heroin. I brought down like an elevator snapping its cord. I'd take coke up for 15 minutes, then heroin down to base zero so I could go up se,real fast again. . . . I was shooting heroin for 10 years, and when ugs I started drinking real hard. Told my friends, man, you gotta quit this, you're killing yourself. And I'm a fifth of gin a day.

-- Ahmed Mustafa Pasha, serving

2 years, 10 months at Lorton

for passing bogus ars ago, the drug epidemic was a heroin epidemic. Today, heroin is rarely the drug of choice among young drug d marijuana almost always head the list, followed by amphetamines, barbituates, hallucinogens and PCP. Drug treatment programs now routinely inquire into their clients' first, secord drug choices. While minority youths were described as "more sophisticated drug users" in a recent NIDA study, white youths entering treatograms were reported as using an average of six drugs.

"Very often, these kids are not physically addicted," says George Beschn chief of NIDA's treatment research branch. "Too many people talk about treating just the drug problem. It's always much more complex than that. There are more complicated social and psycholcal problems -- serious family problems, troubled relationships, school problems."

Yet the District has not ese changes. Its programs for treating the old problem of heroin addiction are grossly inadequate. And it has sider new treatment methods for today's indiscriminate drug abuser.

The city can identify the drug addict, but it can't provideeaningful treatment. Many inmates who might qualify for a prison-based drug program end up serving all their time in the D.C. Jail because of overcrowded prisons. A luckyl make it to the sought-after RAP and Second Genesis. Most will end up in Lorton where the only "treatment" isa week in group counseling sessions.

And the doors of justice keep on spinning.