The heavy toll AIDS is taking on the minority addict population {editorial, Aug. 12} raises anew the question of clinical administration of the addict's drug of choice. Current arguments for such an approach emphasize the dramatic cut in crime it could achieve. A confirmed addict will overcome any obstacle placed between him and his need. Thus, property crimes involving some $50 billion are committed annually to support the habits of about half a million heroin addicts. However, any suggestion of moving toward the British plan of "maintenance," even in conjunction with counseling and therapy, is invariably dismissed as contrary to our principles.

The public, beguiled periodically by political pledges to "stop drugs," has proven more willing to live with the failure of those pledges than to recognize their futility and deal with addiction as a disease. The awesome AIDS statistics suggest that a skyrocketing crime rate is now but one consequence of our current drug laws and policies.

An even more threatening consequence is the rapid exposure of society to a worse disease. The government can urge people to use clean needles, just as it urges them to use condoms. But the public might be more reassured if it knew the needles were clean, and that would require monitoring the process. JAMES W. SYMINGTON Washington