The Post's editorial "Drugs Matter" {Aug. 3} speaks to the fact that even "casual" cocaine use is linked to the drug-related homicides and raging misery and suffering in certain parts of our city. This suggests that therefore "casual" cocaine users deserve to be criticized rather than viewed sympathetically as people with problems.

Obviously The Post does not sympathize with cocaine users and addicts the way our society generally does with alcohol and nicotine users and addicts. I know an initial reaction is to note cocaine's illegality, but keep in mind that laws change from year to year. However, a drug's legal status is not the only thing we should use to determine our attitude toward its use; that status alone does not create the problem. The histories of alcohol and cocaine in our country prove this fact.

Consider this: more deaths in our country can be traced to alcohol and cigarettes than to all the illegal drugs combined -- even considering the homicides associated with the crack trade. I am not suggesting that we embrace cocaine use; rather I am saying we should not be so hypocritical as to pretend some drug abusers need help while others should only be punished.

I agree that cocaine use -- no matter how small or infrequent -- fuels the market and these days ultimately contributes to the violence associated with the crack turf wars. This does not speak to whether cocaine users should be condemned or helped. Remember, cocaine use was legal (and there were times when alcohol use was not) until the early part of this century and socially accepted among the rich and famous until recently. Only within the last few years have most people come to understand the highly addictive and dangerous nature of the drug. And only recently have its users had to view themselves as part of an epidemic; by that time, they were probably already addicted.

The public preoccupation with cocaine use today lies mainly in the violence and astronomical financial gain associated with the trade: murders are being committed because of the turf wars in crack sales. If cocaine were legal, like alcohol and nicotine -- two highly lethal drugs -- I'd venture to say the murder rate associated with its sale would disappear.

If cocaine joined its cousins -- booze and cigarettes -- as a legal commodity, would we treat its addicts with compassion? Would we scorn them for refusing to admit their addiction and continue to scorn them after they sought or were forced to seek help, or would we be relieved and offer praise and support when they finally climbed on the wagon?

Perhaps The Post would also like to condemn people who are "casual" drinkers -- the beer guzzlers who go hand in hand with sports activities, the happy-hour crowd that sustains many restaurants and clubs or practically the entire populace that feels no celebration can be held without champagne.

Following the theory that one "snort" contributes to the drug cartels that engage in murderous turf wars, does not one "shot" contribute to a liquor industry that fuels drunk drivers who murder people on our highways? Doesn't drinking, too, result in "behavior that is at once lawless, dangerous and destructive," as the editorial says of cocaine users?

Doesn't that one beer drinker at home ultimately have responsibility for a drunk driving accident across town that kills a 4-year-old child? Doesn't that one toast of champagne at the wedding or the Christmas party send a message to our children that consumption of the drug alcohol is acceptable? Many young people, following the behavior of adults, are alcoholics before they can get out of high school or college.

And what about cigarettes? Most rational people accept the danger of tar and nicotine to the user, and scientific study has shown the hazard of secondary smoke to the nonsmoker and the environment. Yet many a committed nonsmoker sympathizes with her mother or father who has not yet kicked the habit -- a habit that is endangering the lives of everyone around that smoker -- and tries to get that person to seek help. Across the nation, we make accommodations for the nicotine addict by maintaining smoking sections in our restaurants and places of work.

Recovering addicts -- no matter what they are recovering from -- should not be made to feel worse about themselves. Rather they need the love and support from their families and their communities as they seek to recover from a serious illness.

The Post continues to heap criticism upon Mayor Barry. To deny anyone -- including Mayor Barry -- compassion while he/she undergoes the personal fight of a lifetime is rude and shortsighted. People and families are painfully dealing with all kinds of addictions. They need to know the recovering addict will not be treated with scorn. Rather his/her determination to seek help indeed may be regarded as a heroic one. LURMA RACKLEY Press Secretary, Office of the Mayor Government of the District of Columbia Washington