The District is seeking to set up a clinic to provide short-term care for hundreds of drug abusers waiting to enter the city's crowded drug rehabilitation programs, public health officials said this week.

Dr. Reed V. Tuckson, the District's public health commissioner, said in an interview that the commission wants to establish a facility where drug abusers can receive group counseling, urine testing and education about preventing the spread of AIDS. It would strive to help them stay off drugs while they wait for formal treatment.

"I don't see this as a complete answer" to the continuing shortage of drug treatment facilities in the District, Tuckson said. "Given the magnitude of the problem and given the reality that it is going to take time to develop adequate treatment slots, we need to be as creative as possible to help people who need help."

The waiting list to enter the various clinics and programs operated by the city's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Administration began climbing last summer after a period of stability, and as of Friday it had reached 1,304, said ADASA Administrator John A. Jackson Jr. The clinics aid people who don't have insurance or can't afford treatment at private facilities.

Jackson has said ADASA plans to open three facilities this year in Wards 5, 7 and 8 in Northeast and Southeast. They have been in planning stages for at least a year. Until they're completed, city officials say, the proposed short-term care clinic would allow the District to provide at least some services for those on waiting lists.

Noting that his agency often receives calls from parents asking for immediate drug treatment for their children, Jackson said ADASA employees hope to be able to say, "Send them down this evening."

Tuckson said ADASA plans to convert existing office space for use as a facility for short-term care -- a conversion that is intended to be "budget-neutral." He plans to staff it with present employees. "It is something I am working on with every degree of urgency," he said.

Neither Jackson nor Tuckson would say when or where the clinic would be placed. The District has had numerous problems trying to find locations for drug treatment clinics and group homes for mental health patients because of community opposition. Jackson indicated yesterday that his agency plans to tread very carefully with its new idea to avoid alarming community members.

"We don't want any community to get the impression that we're just going to march in without talking to them," Jackson said.

Tuckson, meanwhile, said he has detected a wholesale change in community attitude toward drug treatment facilities during the past nine months in the face of continuing drug-related violence and substance abuse. Previously, communities adamantly fought such clinics, but this position seems to have changed, he said.

He cited the support of council members H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) and Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) in assisting the city in finding locations for clinics scheduled to open in their wards. Tuckson also said church and community groups, which he often addresses, are "preoccupied with finding solutions to the drug problem {in a manner} I've never seen before."

"I've been more optimistic that we will locate the facilities we need to address the backlog" of drug abusers seeking help, Tuckson said.