Only two people received free needles on the first day of a program for drug addicts that seeks to stem the spread of AIDS, but an official declared the nation's first government needle giveaway "an enormous success."

Dr. Stephen Joseph, the city's health commissioner, said he anticipated a slow start for the experiment, which calls for participation by 400 of the city's estimated 200,000 drug addicts.The experiment is an attempt to learn whether giving intravenous drug users clean needles will limit needle-sharing among addicts. AIDS can be spread through the use of contaminated needles, and health officials say drug abusers are a major conveyor of acquired immune deficiency syndrome to heterosexuals.