Illegal drugs have always carried with them a tragic cost: lost lives, broken families, shattered hopes.

Two new studies by the Department of Justice paint a clear picture of just how much of an impact drugs are having on U.S. society.One study shows that the growth in the numbers of prison inmates is at record levels. The other discloses that 43 percent of all inmates were daily drug users during the month they committed the crime for which they were convicted.

Both studies reveal the disturbing chain reaction of drugs on American society. More drugs are resulting in more crime. More crime results in more police and more convictions. More convictions result in greater prison populations, which result in crowded prison conditions.

Those conditions result in inmates being released who probably shouldn't be released, which starts the cycle all over again.

An oft-forgotten bottom line to all this is that taxes must be raised significantly to pay for the additional costs of police protection and prison construction - all to combat a problem that is growing out of control.

According to the Justice Department study, at the present rate of growth in the number of inmates, "the equivalent of a new 1,000-bed prison would have to be built nearly every week to keep up with the prison population."

Utah's prison population growth rate (12.2 percent annually) ranks 14th highest in the nation, and chances are good it will continue to grow by leaps and bounds over the next decade. The problem is here as much as on the streets of New York.

Drug-related crime everywhere has reached epidemic proportions, and it's time for the United States to treat it like an epidemic and devote the appropriate resources to rooting out the problem.

But it is more than just hiring greater numbers of police to arrest more dealers, or building additional prisons to house convicts. It requires a fundamental rethinking of how we approach the drug/crime problem in this country.

There has to be greater attention to morals, to the upbringing of young people, to supporting solid values in society. The nation cannot simply pretend that the family doesn't matter.

To quote Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-New York, "There is one unmistakable lesson in American history: A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationships to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future - that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence, unrest, disorder are very near to inevitable."