In his op-ed column of Jan. 14 {"When Do You Lie For a Friend?"}, Richard Cohen insinuates that some illegal drug use is okay, "a naive and basically harmless activity."

He is wrong! A number of good people made that mistake in the '60s and '70s, and many bear the scars of their errors to this day. Let us not be mistaken: drug abuse was bad then, just as it is bad now. The only difference is that we now see with greater clarity just how dangerous and destructive drugs are.

Drugs were against the law in the 1970s as they are in the 1980s, and those who used them were breaking the law. The user was then, as now, lining the pockets of, and supporting the scum of the earth -- the drug pusher who peddles death, destruction, ruined lives and lost dreams.

The user then, as now, keeps the thugs in business -- the same thugs who corrupt governments and who threaten, injure and kill innocent citizens who get in their way. These same thugs are people who think and preach that education and hard work are for chumps, and that for two or three hours a day selling "poison'' you can have it all -- car, condo, yacht, big money.

Users then, as now, dropped out, ruined health, families and friends, and while chasing their high, victimized millions of innocent citizens. The drugs of the '70s are the drugs of the '80s and are as flat-out wrong, illegal and terrible now as they were then.

Many Americans realize this. But the fact that Cohen doesn't gives a hint as to his politically biased logic -- a logic which seeks to hide another evil. It is all the more egregious for its subtlety; that it is permissible to lie about a crime, especially if it is a friend who committed it. Our moral values are left to drift in the wind when we preach that it is all right to lie if we personally do not condemn that which we lie about.

That may be Richard Cohen's code -- intellectual dishonesty often traps the unwary. However, we must never let it cloud our moral integrity, and we must pray that no one, anywhere, ever again buys his tired old tirade -- that those who fought then and those who fight now against the use, sale and profiting from illegal drugs are "holier-than-thou ideologues" or somehow un-American. That is not so, Mr. Cohen. They are trying to preserve America.

The writer, a former assistant attorney general, is chairman of the White House Conference for a Drug Free America.