ALBANY, N.Y., JAN. 31 -- New York City will be allowed to give clean hypodermic needles to drug addicts in an attempt to curtail the spread of AIDS, in an experiment that will start this spring, state health officials announced today.

State Health Commissioner David Axelrod had opposed such a program, but changed his mind because the proposal was modified to require addicts receiving free needles to enter drug treatment programs, said Axelrod's spokesman, Peter Slocum.

The program, developed by New York City Health Department officials, would "use the offer of a free, clean needle as a carrot" to lure drug addicts into treatment programs where counselors could then try to persuade them to quit, Slocum said. "It would not be just walk in the door, get your needle and turn around."

Slocum said he believed the program to be the first of its kind in the United States. Similar programs have been successful in the Netherlands and England, Slocum said.

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome, which has no known cure, has been found to be spread through sharing of infected intravenous needles as well as through sexual contact.

New York state has about one-third of the more than 50,000 known AIDS cases in the nation, most of them in New York City.

Slocum said that to his knowledge, the program would include "a couple of hundred" addicts to start and would be expanded to several thousand later this year if officials determine that the free needles helped lower the number of addicts and reduce the transmission of AIDS.