THE war against massive, illegal drug trafficking around the world is stepping up. But right now, it is also losing ground.
The overall trafficking picture is ''discouraging,'' United Nations and United States officials concede. Traffickers in heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and man-made drugs are swamping police and customs and overrunning the third world's defenses as well.
To begin even to reduce the illegal flow, governments and parents alike need to commit themselves much more fully to the war against trafficking and drug abuse in general, the officials say.
Government officials, parents, politicians, doctors, pharmacists, doctors, and others need to awaken to the unprecedented scale of the illegal traffic, now running between $40 billion and $80 billion a year.
They need to recognize its close ties to terrorism, to the smuggling of gold and of arms, and to the weakening of family life.
At the same time, the picture is not all dark. Trafficking and the dulling, hypnotic effects of drug abuse on individual thought can yet be reduced, the officials say.
They cite several recent gains.
New international licensing controls imposed by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in February 1984 on 35 man-made depressants, including Valium and Librium. One of the drugs, Alfentanil, is so strong zoologists and hunters use it to incapacitate elephants. It has been put under the strictest possible controls.
Another success: As shown by reduced seizures in 1982, global trafficking in methaqualone, the chemical used to make the powerful depressant called Quaaludes , is way down, although still high in some third-world areas. The US, Austria, West Germany, Switzerland, India, and China have either stopped manufacturing or exporting it, or have clamped on tight controls.
On the demand side, an encouraging counterwave of concern against drugs includes a mobilization of parents, mainly in the US. Their effort, aided by the Reagan White House, is to strengthen family life against the temptation to turn to drugs to escape broken homes, boredom, unemployment, despair.
Parents in Colombia, Pakistan, Italy, Norway, and Sweden are also awakening to what needs to be done and contacting US parent groups for information.
Against these signs, worldwide demand for drugs is still rising - in poorer, third-world areas, as well as the cities of North America and Western Europe with their armies of the unemployed and the urban poor.
The main heroin producers today are at work in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Cocaine is pouring out of Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia and is beginning to be grown in Brazil.
Traffickers constantly shift their routes to avoid detection. Heroin en route from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Europe and the US is increasingly routed through Greece (where seizures rose from 13 kg. in 1981 to 52 kg. in 1982), India (from 8 kg. to 34 kg.), and the United Arab Emirates.
Worldwide seizures of heroin (6.1 tons), cocaine (12 tons), marijuana (7,278 tons) and some types of man-made drugs were at record levels in 1982, according to figures just released by the United Nations Division of Narcotic Drugs in Vienna.
Lebanese, Syrians, and Moroccans run hashish and marijuana into Europe. The Sicilian Mafia smuggles heroin from Pakistan/Afghanistan to Europe and the US. Colombians dominate the cocaine trade.
One ton of heroin is worth about $1.4 billion on the streets of New York. The value of a ton of cocaine has dropped from $1 billion to $650,000 recently because so much is pouring in from Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru.
The traffic widens continually. In 1972, 34 countries told the UN they had discovered heroin traffic on their territory. In 1982 the number had risen to 51 . For cocaine, the number rose from 29 to 46.
The immensely lucrative cocaine traffic from the Andean countries now moves through such places as Nigeria (seizures up from zero in 1981 to 3 kg. in 1982). In Mexico cocaine seizures shot up 800 percent.
How to mount an effective defense?
Police, customs, and special-agent squads cannot tackle the tidal wave alone, UN officials stress: Law enforcement is managing to seize only about 10 percent of it.
Police and customs are getting more support. US and Australian laws allowing cash, cars, and other assets of smugglers to be seized are being studied elsewhere.
Yet the task is beyond any single country, even the US. It requires worldwide cooperation, which is only beginning to take shape. The US must use persuasion as well as threats to cut off foreign aid, and it must set an example by eradicating marijuana plants at home.
The war must also be fought on three other fronts as well, officials stress:
* Reducing the long-term demand for drugs, especially among young males, by using innovative education programs, increasing parental concern, and cultivating a more closely knit family life.
* Using the levers of foreign aid to persuade third-world producers to eradicate opium poppies, coca bushes, and marijuana plants. The UN needs much more money to provide farmers with alternative crops such as sugar beets, kidney beans, coffee, and tobacco.
* Controlling the production and trade in man-made drugs, and halting thefts from pharmacies, hospitals, doctors' offices, and elsewhere. This is a growing North-South issue, with poorer nations increasingly resenting both legal and smuggled ''uppers,'' ''downers,'' and hallucinogens. Here's a look at the mixed picture on all four fronts: Reducing demand
Most drug abusers are young men, but more and more women are joining in. The world trend is to abuse several drugs at the same time, with the UN reporting a particular drift to mixing coca paste and marijuana.
* In Dublin, which has the youngest, fastest-growing, and most unemployed work force in Europe, heroin addiction has shot up from nowhere two years ago to about 8,000 people today. So much money is being made that bank robbers have turned to heroin trafficking instead.
* Czechoslovakia has joined Poland in confessing to widespread drug abuse behind the iron curtain.
A weekly magazine for young Czechs has just devoted four pages to drug addiction, mainly the inhaling of a solvent called toluene contained in glue. Observers put the number of drug addicts at 100,000. In Poland, with half the population, the figure of opiate addicts is about 120,000.
* Addiction to heroin is growing dramatically in such producer countries as Pakistan, which now has more than 156,000 heroin addicts. Cocaine addiction is taking tragic hold in Colombia. At long last, the governments of these and other producer countries are beginning to hear the complaints as addiction reaches the middle classes.
IN the US, Joyce Nalepka of the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth works to encourage some 4,000 parent groups to work with their children and with government against drugs.
''We need all-out commitment from the grass roots to the top levels,'' Mrs. Nalepka says from her headquarters in Silver Spring, Md.
''We have a long way to go to return to the situation of the 1950s. . . . But I don't think anything can stop a mother who is determined to save her child.''
The White House Office on Drug Abuse Policy is working with physicians, pharmacists, churches, actors, sportsmen, and others. A pilot program to educate church ministers and laity will start in North Carolina this year. One million copies of an antidrug comic book have just been sent to fifth graders around the country. Earlier comics went to fourth and sixth graders.
A recent survey of US high school seniors shows that marijuana use continues to drop. From a 1978 peak of 1 in 9 students using it, the figure is down to 1 in every 18.
Mrs. Nalepka is unimpressed, however. She says marijuana abusers in the US don't reach the senior grade, but drop out in lower grades.
Another welcome sign: In Vienna, the director of the UN's narcotics drugs division, Tamar Oppenheimer, reports a markedly stiffer attitude toward drugs among the 40 commission member-states that have just held their eighth annual special meeting.
In Europe, countries like the Netherlands, which allow possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, are being singled out as weak links in the antidrug chain. Reducing supplies
The United States has waged a long-term campaign to persuade other countries to eradicate opium poppies, coca bushes, and marijuana plants.
Both Turkey and Mexico did well in the last decade against poppies and marijuana. But Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru (coca bushes) and Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Thailand (opium poppies) still refuse to take the kind of action the US wants.
Late last year Congress passed a foreign aid act requiring the President to judge the maximum amount each producer country should do each year, and to report to Capitol Hill on whether the maximum had been reached. If not, Congress has the option of cutting off foreign aid.
It was the threat of eliminating military aid to Turkey that is thought to have persuaded Ankara to act against opium poppies in the early 1970s.
But in Colombia, ''There's so much Mafia-type of trafficking that people down there are scared to act,'' a US government official says.
Besides, the US itself is still not taking the fastest route to eradicating marijuana - spraying plants with herbicide. The Drug Enforcement Agency has been blocked by court action brought by the marijuana lobby and the Sierra Club.
At the order of federal district Judge June Green the DEA is preparing an environmental impact statement on the effects of spraying paraquat. The DEA wants to resume spraying this summer if the court approves.
The United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control continues rural development projects in producer countries, relying on host nations to ban production while it offers farmers replacement crops.
BUT the UN fund's chief, Guiseppe di Gennaro, is considering returning to his native Italy unless UN member states provide more money. His agency's budget is only about $9 million a year.
Italy is providing $40 million extra over the next five years to reduce coca bush cultivation in the Andes countries, but Mr. di Gennaro, on leave from his post as a supreme court judge in Italy, thinks at least $2 billion is needed to begin to make real progress. Reducing the flow of man-made drugs
The weight and dosage units of methaqualone seized worldwide in 1982 fell ''appreciably,'' the UN reports. But in Asia and in eastern and southern Africa, figures were higher. Seizures of man-made stimulants such as amphetamines were also up. In Asia they jumped 300 percent.
On the other hand, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in February 1984 agreed after years of wrangling and opposition by drug companies to require firm international controls on the manufacture and trade of 33 depressants in the ''benzo-diazepine'' family, including Librium and Valium (already controlled in the US) and on Alfentanil and pentazocine. Policing
National police and customs forces are beginning to cooperate more. The South Florida Task Force in the US, incorporating help from the armed forces, is a model being closely studied elsewhere.
Bigger and bigger seizures are being made. A fugitive trafficker called Harold Rosenthal has just been extradited to Atlanta from Colombia (a welcome change in attitude by the Bogota government). He is one of 22 people about to stand trial on charges of smuggling five tons of cocaine.