DURING THE 1970s, Mexico, which has only a minuscule addict population, became the source of States. Also during that time, the Chicago area became the country's major distribution center. According to federal drug officials, those circumstances largely resulted from the work of one man, Jaime Herrera, who is not your ordinary drug clear, and still less your ordinary family man. Herrera, a Mexican national, actually had five common-law wives and five families whose members in the aggregate are numbered in the hundreds - each family apparently unaware of the existence of the others. He used these family networks to build a sophisticated drug network that, from its base in Chicago, has accounted for more than one quarter of all the heroin smuggled into the country annually. Although U.S. drug officials have known of this syndicate's operations for several years, the numerous administrative layers he put between himself and the actual drugs enabled Jaime Herrera to avoid arrest and prosecution in this country. Last week, however, Mexican narcotics agents arrested Herrera in Mexico for drug violations that could send him to prison for up to 12 years.

Jaime Herrera's arrest is the most significant and promising result of the U.S.-Mexican effort to shut down the illicit-drug pipeline between the two countries. When that effort began, Mexican officials left most of the law-enforcement work in their country to American drug agents, sought his arrest for producing and distributing heroin. His capture in Mexico now may enable U.S. drug officials to gather evidence that could result in a long prison term for him in this country as well. Already, as a result of his arrest, federal officials are preparing to indict more than 100 members of the Herrera organization.

Thus, the arrest of Jaime Herrera in Mexico is bound to seriously disrupt a major drug network in the United States and, at least temporarily, to diminish the amount of heroin available to American drug users. Equally important, Jaime Herrera's arrest is further proof that the Mexican government is a full partner in the U.S.-Mexican anti-drug campaign.