In "Learning to Live With Drugs" [op-ed, Nov. 2], Ethan Nadelmann makes a clever argument for the legalization of illicit narcotics through the Trojan horse of "harm reduction." Nadelmann is director of the Lindesmith Center, which your paper describes as "a drug policy institute with offices in New York and San Francisco." Your paper also should have noted that the Lindesmith Center is a project of George Soros's Open Society Institute, which has spent $20 million trying to change how Americans look at illegal drugs.

Treating illicit drugs as benign would take us back to the late 19th century, before the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was enacted, when patent medicines were laced with dangerous drugs. Pharmaceutical manufacturers sold their narcotics through inaccurate advertising at the expense of the general welfare and the poor. Reformers realized then that powerful, addictive narcotics could act as a terrible form of regressive tax--not only transferring wealth to an elite group of manufacturers but also robbing the poor underclass of the ability to generate income and savings and lead productive lives.

Experience demonstrates that with the legalization of drugs the rate of addiction increases. Furthermore, government becomes more bureaucratic, because legalization really means regulation. Children and other groups such as the military and key service providers would remain prohibited from using drugs and thus would continue to be targets for illegal traffickers and pushers.

Nadelmann argues that "those who consume drugs without hurting others should not be of government concern." According to the 1992 Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, the rate of offenses committed under the influence of drugs was almost double the rate of offenses committed in order to buy drugs. Prisoners were under the influence of drugs at the time of offense for 28.2 percent of violent offenses, 35.4 percent of property offenses, 36.9 percent of drug offenses and 18 percent of public order offenses. These statistics underscore the fact that drug-related crimes would not diminish with legalization.

Treating narcotic drug use as benign and non-predatory sends confusing messages to societies attempting to protect their children from debilitating addictions. The reformers in the early 20th century courageously exposed these problems long ago.

--David C. Jordan

The writer is a professor at the University of Virginia.