"Costly Drug Brings Hope to AIDS Patients" {July 20} explained that a user can pay approximately $10,000 a year for the drug commonly known as AZT. Sandra Boodman reported that AZT's manufacturer, Burroughs-Wellcome, sells the drug to retail pharmacies at a price of $188 per 100 capsules. Most prescriptions for AZT are written for 400 capsules, approximately a month's supply. Thus, the cost to the pharmacy of a month's supply is approximately $750, or $9,000 annually. Obviously, retail pharmacies are doing quite well off AIDS and AZT.

Local pharmacies charge between $880 and $928 for a month's supply. Thus, they are making a profit of between $130 per month ($1,560 per year) and $179 per month ($2,148 per year) on the sale of AZT. Quite simply, these markups are not justified. To see why, one must understand how AZT is prescribed and sold.

First, a treating physician must certify a patient to Burroughs, and Burroughs, in turn, must agree to supply that patient with the medication. Although AZT is becoming more available, the supply is still short, and Burroughs reserves the right to refuse to supply AZT if the patient does not meet specific criteria.

If Burroughs agrees to provide the medication, it issues the patient a personal identification number. Once the physician's prescription is certified by Burroughs, the patient takes it to the pharmacy of his or her choice. The pharmacist then calls Burroughs, via a toll-free number, and orders the drug by using the patient's identification number. I have witnessed many of these calls, and none has ever taken more than five minutes. Burroughs then ships the exact amount prescribed, and no more.

Consequently, for its $130 to $179 profit, the pharmacy does nothing more than make a toll-free call, accept shipment and then wait for the patient to pick up the medication. There are no real inventory problems, almost no chance of the pharmacy's being stuck with unsalable merchandise and no out-of-the-ordinary expenses of time or labor. To the contrary, one pharmacist I spoke to stated that handling AZT is easier and less economically risky than handling many other commonly stocked pharmaceuticals.

I have provided legal assistance to a number of AIDS patients over the past four years. More than once, doing so has forced me to admit what no lawyer likes to -- that some of the problems faced by my clients can't be solved, or at least not by me and not soon enough to benefit them directly. Some of those problems, however, can be solved, and this is one of them.

There is simply no reason for the large profits being taken by local pharmacies in their sale of AZT. They spend thousands, probably millions, of dollars every year telling us how interested they are in our health and what good neighbors they are. Well, I say the proof is in their actions, not in their slick, self-serving commercials. STEPHEN K. OTT Washington