While many AIDS patients deny or try to hide their diagnosis out of fear of discrimination, at least one man fabricated an AIDS diagnosis to get drugs and disability benefits fraudulently.

A 29-year-old New Mexico drug addict falsified medical records and faked symptoms to obtain narcotics and Social Security disability benefits, three state medical investigators report in a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

When the man was found dead in his bed by roommates, among his personal papers were medical records and disability papers claiming that he suffered from AIDS. The records included a hospital discharge summary dated eight months earlier that indicated diagnoses of Kaposi's sarcoma, pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and pseudomembranous colitis -- the most common AIDS-related diseases.

The forensic pathologist initially concluded that death was probably a consequence of AIDS and that no autopsy was necessary. But a blood sample drawn revealed an overdose of narcotics, and a complete autopsy was ordered.

The autopsy showed no natural disease, and no evidence of AIDS infection.

When the hospital and doctors listed on the discharge summary were contacted, the letter reports, they said the records had been falsified. The man's family described him as a "longstanding drug addict who would do anything to get drugs."

The man apparently had been receiving Social Security disability benefits for AIDS, and Social Security officials recalled that he had arrived for his disability hearing limping and wearing an oxygen mask. He also had been able to obtain narcotics at hospital emergency rooms by presenting his discharge summary and complaining of severe pain.

Because AIDS still carries a stigma in most communities, the letter cautioned, health care workers may not question an AIDS diagnosis that is supported by medical documents.