Americans traditionally challenge the daunting - whether putting a man on the moon or insisting that in the long march of history mass public education can lift the aspirations of millions of youngsters. In this same vein, it is encouraging that many Americans, including the two top presidential candidates, are addressing the need to combat the nation's drug problem.
That high-level presidential campaign attention to the issue was reinforced this past week by vigorous action in the Congress; the US House passed several bills dealing with illicit drug trafficking. Such steps belie the notion that the drug challenge is so complicated as to defy solution. The increasing national focus on the problem - ranging, for example, from national legislation dealing with drunken driving to mounting grass-roots efforts to overcome drug dependency - illustrates that as the public becomes more informed, solutions are likely.
The sense of despair so often heard about the drug problem need not be accepted.
Saying this, of course, is not to ignore the enormity of the challenge. But the deeper need is to maintain the sense of hard-won momentum:
* The Reagan administration is concentrating many of its antidrug programs on youths, such as the nation's 5.5 million high school athletes. It is vital to reach individuals in their formative years, before they are led to experiment with drugs. Drug dependency has moral and health implications. Intelligent government action is called for. Example: the administration has targeted selected distribution markets. Government agents now say they may well have broken the illicit methaqualone market. Such efforts need to be encouraged.
* Mr. Mondale has urged an intensification in antidrug programs, including using US military forces, where appropriate, to combat drug smuggling.
* On the global front national leaders in some nations are now seeking to get at the source of the drug trade - by curbing the growing of crops for illicit drugs and by identifying and incarcerating key dealers. One impetus for this effort is the realization that many terrorist organizations are being directly financed through the drug trade.
Far more steps are required. In the US that means, at the least, providing additional monies for antidrug programs. Better national coordination is needed. Last week House members passed legislation that would create a national coordinator for drug enforcement programs. The idea is sound, providing such an office does not intrude on the legal jurisdiction of other federal or local law-enforcement agencies. And globally there must be a similar coordination of comprehensive programs to curb illicit crops and capture traders.