Former Coach Lefty Driesell's comment that cocaine is "performance enhancing" is irresponsible.

First, on the merits, he is wrong. Cocaine can create heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), dilate the pupils, make people "jumpy" from an overly speeded-up heartbeat and nervous system and generate spastic muscular contractions and reactions. In other words, most people would perform awkwardly, with unpredictable muscular activity. As Lefty Driesell knows from the Len Bias case, death can come from cocaine.

Second, as an educator, Lefty Driesell should know that what he said, even with his belated caveats, could encourage people to use cocaine in sports or for other purposes. A recent poll showed that over 50 percent of athletes would take a pill that might mean death in five years if it also guaranteed winning an Olympic gold medal.

Last year, two-thirds of high school seniors used illegal drugs, and 17 percent used cocaine. We are all paying the price. In some cities, 90 percent of arrests are drug-related -- crimes committed by people desperate for money for their deadly and sorry habit.

What we need from educators, coaches and athletic administrators is leadership in the war against drugs. As a former coach and current assistant athletic director, Lefty Driesell, instead of serving as a role model, has become an embarrassment.

CHARLES B. RANGEL U.S. Representative (D-N.Y.) Chairman BENJAMIN A. GILMAN U.S Representative (R-N.Y.) Ranking Minority Member Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control Washington