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A new tidal wave of illicit heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and manmade ''uppers, '' ''downers,'' sedative-hypnotics and hallucinatory drugs has gathered swift force in the last two years and is flooding across the United States, Western Europe, and much of the third world.

Altogether it adds up to the worst drug crisis the world has yet faced, according to experts, doctors, diplomats, social workers, and politicians in producing and consuming countries contacted by this newspaper in the last three months.

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Some of the hopeful signs that emerged toward the end of the 1970s are being washed away in a new trafficking and drug-abusing cycle that is dulling and debilitating the thinking of young and old alike.

Southwest Asia's ''Golden Crescent'' (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran) has taken over from Turkey and Mexico as the major world supplier of heroin. After two years of drought in Southeast Asia's ''Golden Triangle'' (Burma, Thailand, Laos) , there have been two bumper crops of opium in a row.

Heroin addiction is rising faster in Western Europe today than it did in the US in the 1960s.

A cocaine glut is forcing prices down in the US. Every day about 5,000 Americans are said to try cocaine for the first time. Cocaine is beginning to flood Western European markets. Marijuana seizures worldwide were up 26 percent in 1982, according to preliminary UN figures. A new wave of man-made drugs

There is now a new twist in the drug crisis causing grave concern to UN and third-world officials alike.

The flow of drugs is not always from poorer nations to richer ones. Booming now is another surge in the opposite direction: man-made pharmaceutical pills, tablets, and capsules made legally in Europe and North America, pouring into Asia, Africa, and Latin America through aggressive legal marketing, and criminal diversions and counterfeiting.

The UN is on the brink of what some officials privately fear could be a new North-South confrontation. Developing countries - among them Pakistan, Venezuela , and Nigeria - are beginning to insist that before they can be expected to control the substances their farmers grow, richer nations must police their own drugmakers and traffickers much more strictly.

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This is such a sensitive issue that few diplomats are willing to speak openly about it yet. In part, it is an issue of credibility.

North America and Europe want developing countries to suppress supplies of opium, cocaine, and marijuana, while their own corporations and criminals push into the developing world man-made drugs that are new to local customs police and health officers and are beyond their resources to control.

The tidal wave generates worldwide sales of a minimum of $40 billion and a maximum of about $80 billion a year, UN and US estimates show. This is second only to the Exxon Corporation in global turnover. It outstrips such corporate giants as Mobil ($59 billion in sales in 1981), Ford ($37 billion), and IBM ($26 billion).

Drug abuse costs the US alone $26 billion a year, according to a government-financed study by the Research Triangle Institute and cited by FBI director William H. Webster. That figure includes $16 billion in lost productivity, $2 billion in medical expenses, and more than $7 billion in crime costs.

In Colombia, cocaine and marijuana generate $2 billion a year, about 10 percent of the country's entire economy.

The illicit drug wave fuels terrorism and war. It is welcomed by some communist nations who encourage it wherever possible.

In a statement made to The Christian Science Monitor for this series, President Reagan referred to communist countries by saying, ''I am sure that those who oppose us are enjoying our frustrating moments as we try to undo the harm that has been done.''

''A far greater number of human beings are consuming more substances than ever before - alcohol, pills, cocaine, heroin, and so on,'' says Kevin McEneany, senior vice-president of the Phoenix House rehabilitation center in New York. ''There is an explosion of new chemicals. . .

''Why are human beings spending the equivalent of air fares to distant places to get high for 45 minutes?

''There must be a great void, a spiritual emptiness, in their lives. . . .''

The grimmest find of this newspaper's probe is that at present the war is being lost. Less than 10 percent of the illicit trade is stopped and caught.

The tidal wave is still building in size and strength. Officials in country after country said most people had not yet awakened to it.

''We're fighting a war,'' says Michael Davies, a senior UN drug official in Vienna. A counterwave of opposition

Yet there is another side.

The most significant of the Monitor's findings may well be this: The tidal wave is so alarming to so many people that it is beginning to generate a counterwave of popular opposition, led by parents who demand tougher laws and advocate more awareness and caring among families.

In the US, a grass-roots movement of parents, churchgoers, educators, politicians, doctors, social workers, and others is so marked that it is becoming a counterwave - perhaps approaching the significance of the environmental movement in the late 1960s - poised to transform itself from the tragic concern of a relative few to the compelling national concern of an aroused nation.

''It's the tip of the iceberg right now,'' says Robert Kramer, president of the National Federation of Parents for Drug-free Youth, which has 4,000 affiliated parent groups in the US.

In Columbia, parents are pointing out to Bogota drug squads the houses where bazucom traffickers work.

In Karachi, Pakistan, women veiled in the black burqam costume of Islam took to the streets last month to demand government action. Young children followed the next day.

More and more people are realizing that the ultimate answer to combating drug abuse lies in the thinking of each individual. The US ambassador to Colombia, Lewis Tambs, is also a professor of Latin American history at the University of Arizona at Tempe. In an interview he leaned forward and said:

''I took this job in Colombia [the biggest illicit supplier of cocaine in the world] because I saw students destroyed by drugs over a period of 15 years. At 22 they looked like 40. This is an evil.

''If I can save just one kid, it's worth it. After all, it could be your child. Or mine. . . .''

The need for a change of attitude

Michael Davies of the UN says: ''You have to change the attitude that the only way to solve a problem is to escape from it.''

Prof. Arnold Trebach of the American University in Washington, D.C., writes in a new book on heroin, ''Drugs are only one way of attaining an altered state of consciousness, and a relatively inferior one.

''It would be infinitely better for human beings if they could reach into their own souls - through meditation or prayer - for strength, joy, comfort, for coping with the disappointments and frustrations of human existence.

''But for many people this does not seem to be possible. . . .''

The director of the UN Narcotic Drug Division, Tamar Oppenheimer, says: ''The major nongovernment groups can play a big role - churches, youth groups, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, consumer unions, doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, judges, the police. . . .''

Her principal deputy, Ramos Galino of Spain, adds: ''I have confidence. I just don't think people are crazy enough to do nothing. We all have children. . . .''

European countries in particular need to exert more diplomatic pressure against drug runners of all kinds, says Dominick di Carlo, US assistant secretary of state for international narcotics matters.

In an interview, Mr. di Carlo said, ''In most cases they are silent. They have regarded drugs as police or health matters. We in the US think this is a weakness. We think this drug epidemic is a foreign policy issue.''

Here is how the tidal was formed - and some of the results:

In 1978, Turkey, which once supplied 80 percent of US heroin, was virtually out of the illicit drug producing business.

Mexico, which had taken over as the major supplier, was busy trying to eradicate its crops with millions of dollars of US aid. Drought had hit Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle. But in 1979, chaos erupted in Iran and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

Heroin trafficking patterns began an ominous shift that has yet to end. By 1981 Southwest Asia's Golden Crescent was the world's major source. It remains so today.

Worldwide seizures of heroin in 1982 were about 5.5 tons, up 120 percent from 1980 and 170 percent from 1979, according to reports to the United Nations Division of Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. The increase is partly from increased enforcement, but also reflects larger quantities traded, say sources. More addicts worldwide

Illegal drug figures are notoriously imprecise, but they indicate the pace and scale of growth. Europe is now said to have between 220,000 and 330,000 addicts using heroin as much as 30 percent pure compared with less than 5 percent per dose in New York City. United States street heroin is ''cut'' or diluted many more times at each stage of a much longer clandestine distribution chain than is the case in Europe.

Italy has as many as 100,000 addicts now (up from 20,000 in 1980), West Germany between 50,000 and 100,000, the UK more than 40,000, the Irish Republic a sudden and disturbing 6,000 to 8,000.

In Asia, the figures are even more dramatic. Those countries that grow and export illicit supplies are finding their own young people falling prey to them. But this could be the spur for taking significant actions to cut back production.

Until a few weeks ago, Pakistan was thought to have gone from zero to 50,000 heroin addicts in two years, and to have a total of some 300,000 opium addicts. But drug officials in Pakistan said last month that the heroin figure had hit 156,000. The doctor who runs the only heroin treatment program in Karachi said he now believed there were 100,000 heroin addicts in Karachi alone, and that the number was rising.

Burma has at least 38,000 heroin addicts. Some UN experts put the figure closer to 50,000. Iran's opium abusers total between half a million and 1 million, with more than 50,000 on heroin.

Malaysia is a very distressing case. The US and the UN estimate opium abusers at 350,000 to 400,000 (1 person in every 36), over 60,000 of them on heroin.

As traffickers scout new routes, the first heroin deaths are being reported from Bahrain. Egypt has discovered that the number of opiate users, including heroin addicts in and around Cairo, has reached half a million. Drug crisis in Poland

Nor is the communist bloc immune, for all its border patrols and guards. Police figures in Poland show 12,000 addicts involved in crimes in 1982, but the publication Rzeczpospolita wrote recently that the actual addict figure in Poland was ''10 times that'' - 120,000 - most of them middle-class youths who boil up locally grown opium poppy heads and call the injectable result kompotm (compote).

According to Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, the interior minister, drug addiction in Poland is ''tragic.'' Its emergence, he said, should ''rock the consciences of those who uncritically promote Western life styles. . . .''

The US is holding steady at about half a million heroin addicts, and Canada at more than 20,000.

So much cocaine has begun to penetrate the southeastern US from Colombia that there is a glut. Prices have dropped. No longer the rich man's drug, Colombian, Peruvian, and Bolivian cocaine is moving across the Atlantic to Western Europe in ever larger quantities.

The chief US drug agent in Bogota, Colombia, Johnny Phelps, told this writer that Europe will have more cocaine 18 months from now than the US has today ''unless Europeans begin to act now.''

Already, ''cocaine is the drug of the 1980s, just as heroin was for us in the 1970s,'' says John Oosterbroek, chief of the drug division of Holland's National Criminal Intelligence Service.

Worldwide seizures of cocaine in 1982, according to UN preliminary figures, topped 12 tons, the highest figure ever, 26 percent up on 1981 and above the previous record year of 1980.

In Bogota, there is so much surplus bazucom - a dull cocaine powder one stage before final refining into hydrochloride crystals - that callous traffickers are handing out twists of paper containing free samples to eight-year-old children outside school playgrounds.

Abuse by US high schoolers is down slightly, but University of Michigan research shows 1 out of every 16 US teen-agers smoking pot every day.

Marijuana use in the US is up 3,000 percent in the last two decades. World seizures in 1982 jumped 54 percent to a record of about 8,000 tons, the preliminary UN figures show.

Other developments include:

* The Sicilian Mafia, and the Camorra Mafia in Naples, are running huge amounts of heroin from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Europe and the US. Naples Mafia men bring cocaine from Peru.

* Violence is worsening.

A young Colombian woman living in Miami was forced into acting as a ''mule,'' a carrier of cocaine on air trips. She confronted her trafficker contact in Miami and said she wanted to stop. He calmly produced a piece of paper with a list of names on it.

As told to this reporter by a source who spoke to the girl's priest, the contact said, ''Here's a list of your immediate family members. We're going to kill them all, in this order. As for you, we haven't decided if you'll die first , or last.''

Terrified, the girl continued smuggling.

Tomorrow: Part 2 - a grass-roots protest and education movement have emerged to reduce demand for drugs.m

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