"THE District's police have made over 46,000 arrests for drug offenses; judges mete out the longest sentences in America; and the prisons are bulging. Yet homicides in 1989 outstripped the previous year's tally. The cost of drug abuse in the Washington, D.C., metro area is estimated to be $1 billion to $2 billion per year. Every family, every neighborhood, every community is paying a price. Drug and alcohol abuse threaten to unravel the fabric of our society . . . Drug Abuse is Every Citizen's Problem. Obtaining a Drug Free D.C. is Every Citizen's Responsibility."

-- Report on anti-drug activities in the District of Columbia by the Drug Control Policy Office in the executive office of the mayor, April 1990.

"I know an initial reaction is to note cocaine's illegality, but keep in mind that laws change from year to year."

-- Lurma Rackley, press secretary to Mayor Marion Barry (See letters to the editor, Aug. 8, 1990).

Miss Rackley's letter, printed elsewhere on this page today, provides a fascinating insight into the thinking of one key member of Mayor Barry's inner circle on the matter of illegal narcotics use and substance addiction, as well as her views on the similarity and linkages between: a "snort" of cocaine and drug turf wars, cigarette smoking and secondary smoke sufferers and "that one beer drinker at home . . . {who has} responsibility for a drunk driving accident across town that kills a 4-year-old child." For Miss Rackley, the issue is whether illegal narcotics use should be viewed primarily as a health problem for which compassion is due or a crime deserving of society's contempt. Good question; the answer is sometimes both. It is also an irrelevant question in the context of our city's crisis, a crisis, we remind her, brought about by evidence of our chief law enforcement officer's habitual use of the very drugs he was in charge of combating. Miss Rackley's concerns are too narrowly drawn. The right question, which she ignores, concerns the obligation of Mayor Barry to account for his use of illegal narcotics, even as our city endured an epidemic of drug use and record-breaking drug-related violence, and for his choosing to lie repeatedly about it.

What was the point of that massive law enforcement campaign called "Reclaiming Our Streets" and the grass-roots assault on illegal drugs "Not On My Block" and the mayor's weekly meetings with clergy and laity to turn antidrug rhetoric into workable programs? What about all of those citizens who were feverishly working with the police to organize efforts at crime prevention and crime suppression on their blocks? What does Miss Rackley think he should say to them?

Marion Barry was not just any mixed up guy with a drug problem. He was -- and is -- the mayor of the District of Columbia, site of some of the worst violence and human damage sustained in the drug plague. It is incredible that those around him -- or at least his press secretary -- still don't see what the big deal was, don't know why he had a special obligation not to engage in drug use himself and are still putting forward extenuations of that use.