The nation's drug problem is increasingly evolving into a collection of local "epidemics," according to a report issued yesterday by the Clinton administration's Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The report noted, for example, that marijuana has become the No. 1 cash crop in poor areas of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, and that there has been a dramatic increase in the production and use of methamphetamines, or speed, in parts of Missouri, Kansas and Iowa.

Barry R. McCaffrey, national drug control policy director, said Americans must face the reality that vast quantities of illegal drugs used in this country are not from abroad and step up efforts to combat domestic production and consumption. He also said the challenge for law enforcement is to use local, state and federal resources to attack the difficulties afflicting some communities and the nation's 4 million chronically addicted drug users.

"We do not just have a national drug problem. What we really have is a series of local drug epidemics," McCaffrey said. "It is not just cocaine out of Colombia."

McCaffrey made the remarks after a two-day conference on "High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas," 31 regions around the country with drug difficulties that law enforcement officials are targeting. The $190 million program is aimed at local problems that are growing even as the nation's overall rate of drug abuse has been cut in half since 1979 to about 6.8 percent, officials said.

Portions of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia alone produce more than 1.6 million outdoor marijuana plants--more than 40 percent of the nationwide total, the study said. In a poor region, marijuana growers defend their $4 billion bumper crop with lethal weapons.

"Growers and traffickers of marijuana have begun protecting themselves, as well as their crops, with firearms, explosives and booby traps, resulting in an increase in potential threats to law enforcement-officer safety," the study said. "Thanks to marijuana cultivation on public lands, the increasing violence also threatens the safety of numerous employees of, and visitors to, the area's national forests."

Corruption is also a problem, McCaffrey added, with a number of sheriffs in Kentucky recently facing drug-related charges.

McCaffrey said contrary to popular notions that drug problems exist solely in major urban centers, there is, on average, more drug abuse in the suburbs than in cities. He said drug sales in many cities are fueled by purchases made by wealthy suburban residents, adding that drug and alcohol abuse in some Northern Virginia high schools is worse than it is in some high schools in Southeast Washington. He also said major unresolved open-air drug markets continue to plague the city of Baltimore.

In an effort to combat the burgeoning methamphetamine epidemic in the Midwest, law enforcement authorities have stepped up their efforts to shut down clandestine drug labs. For example, the study said that in the first half of this year, 242 secret drug labs were shut down in Iowa and 238 labs were shut down by law enforcement authorities in Kansas.

Methamphetamine also poses an increasing problem in Seattle and the Northwest, according to the study. "The seizure of illegal methamphetamine laboratories is expected to reach all-time record numbers in the State of Washington during 1999," the study said. "Projections are that nearly 500 labs will be dismantled."

While many new local trends have emerged, the report also confirmed that large quantities of drugs continue to move through the New York-New Jersey region, California and Texas. The study also said a majority of the cocaine that enters the United States comes through Mexico.