Juliet Eilperin's otherwise insightful depiction of Washington politics understated the substantive case behind the efforts of 90 organizations to include alcohol in the national youth anti-drug media campaign ["Beer Lobby Keeps Anti-Drug Drive Alcohol-Free," news story, July 23].

Health experts are nearly unanimous that alcohol is by far the leading drug of use and abuse by teenagers. It causes more deaths among teens than all other drugs combined. According to the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, underage drinking costs society $58 billion per year.

Moreover, federal statistics show that drinking as a youth dramatically increases the likelihood that one will become a problem drinker or an alcoholic -- or go on to use, abuse and become addicted to other drugs. Delaying, even by a year or two, the age at which people begin to drink is one of the most effective ways to prevent drug abuse.

The public seems to understand this. In a recent national poll commissioned by Center for Science in the Public Interest, Americans reported -- by better than a 3 to 1 margin -- that the biggest drug problem faced by children is alcohol, not heroin, crack or marijuana. More than 90 percent of the respondents believed that the national anti-drug media campaign should discourage underage drinking.

FRITZ WIECKING

Manager, Federal Affairs

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Washington