Saying so is a slap in the face to all the good kids who work hard at entry-level jobs. I have heard one too many so-called responsible adults -- including a number of individuals running for political office in the District of Columbia and elsewhere -- belittle working in fast-food restaurants by making statements like, ''Well, you have to expect that young people are going to sell drugs if their only economic options are working in McDonald's for minimum wage or selling drugs.'' I firmly believe that such statement are irresponsible, because the speakers are suggesting to our youth that economics somehow justify the sale of drugs, even though such activity is destroying many of the purchasers and the quality of life for the residents who live in the neighborhoods where sellers operate.

Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that as a society we should not strive to expand the economic opportunities for all our fellow citizens. But I fail to see how this goal is advanced by giving our youth an excuse or justification for engaging in destructive behavior while putting their lives in great jeopardy.

I guess I am offended by derogatory remarks about fast-food employment because of the values instilled in me by my parents about the importance of earning an honest living. In addition, I feel it is a slap in the face of all the good kids -- who are clearly in the majority -- who work in fast-food restaurants and who have told me they feel belittled by statements critical of the work they perform and the wages they receive.

Someone will always have to perform services that do not necessarily pay vast sums of money. And the quality of one's contribution and worth to society should not be judged merely by how much money one earns.

My father has probably never earned more than $20,000 in a year, yet he is my hero and justifiably so. The fact that he was, and still is, a janitor has never diminished my opinion of the greatness of the man. He and my mother successfully raised three children, not because they received huge paychecks, but because they instilled appropriate values in us about right and wrong.

Unfortunately, the importance of values and morals for many has been reduced to ''what is best for me,'' regardless of what effect one's conduct has on the rest of society. This deterioration of values and morals is the real root cause for the drug crisis that is now plaguing our country. The call for more money to combat the drug problem -- and I don't suggest that money is not important -- will only bring about minimal results if the attitudes of the American people about drugs do not change.

I am happy to say that in my travels throughout the country I have seen more and more people starting to think differently about drugs. However, we still have a long way to go, and responsible leadership by adults will be needed if a total transformation of the American psyche about drugs is to occur.

The values of doing what is right, working hard and understanding that success -- whether economic or otherwise -- usually comes slowly, must be the message we send to our youth. And these messages are not advanced by those who suggest that the sale of drugs can be rationalized because of economics. Such rationalization -- however well intended -- is wrong, and it will cause many of our youth to continue to venture into harm's way. The end result will be a prison sentence or, even worse, an early death.

Selling drugs should not be considered a viable option for any reason, and we need to stop suggesting to our youth that it is.

The writer, a former D.C. Superior Court judge, is associate director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.