Occasionally, there are victories in the drug war. Recently, American officials announced charges had been filed against 233 suspected members of a Sicilian drug ring charged with heroin smuggling.

It was the second large-scale strike by U.S. and Italian lawmen. Last December, more than 300 persons in Sicily were convicted on drug charges involving conspiracy and heroin trafficking to America.Yet such events are more like rear-guard actions than triumphs. For in the larger picture, the U.S. is being overwhelmed by drugs. Smuggling of cocaine and heroin into the country nearly doubled between 1981 and 1986. The crime associated with an expensive drug habit inevitably has risen as well.

Law enforcement officials say they don't have enough manpower or money to cope with the flood.

In response to this situation, a $2.4 billion measure was introduced in Congress last week to fund a variety of anti-drug programs.

Some money would go to state and local lawmen, some to Customs and the Coast Guard, some for treatment centers, some for more prison facilities, and some to encourage foreign nations to eradicate drug crops.

The $2.4 billion price tag may cause some members of Congress to swallow hard since budget cutting is supposed to be a national priority. But this is a case where the country is losing tens of billions of dollars to the drug problem and the lives of many of its citizens, most of them young people.

The U.S. can hardly afford to spend an extra $2.4 billion fighting drugs, but then, it can't afford not to.