Incidents in which youngsters are accidentally jabbed with discarded hypodermic needles point up the hazard of living in a period that keeps getting more squalid.

On Sept. 26, two sixth-grade girls accidentally jabbed themselves when they tried to clean up a bunch of hypodermic needles, cotton swabs and an empty bottle of hydrogen peroxide that were dumped on the playground of their school, South Kearns Elementary, 4430 W. 5570 South. Soon ,the three months' wait will be over, and they can get their first AIDS test.It happened again about Nov. 4.

"Two kids, young teenagers, were going down the street goofing off together," said Dick Bollard, chairman of the Salt Lake City-County Board of Health. By coincidence, he is a friend of the family of one of the youths.

"They were walking to the 7-Eleven to buy some goodies, and crossing a field. In this field they found a syringe.

"It was one of those disposable insulin syringes for people with diabetes. It was empty and it still had the little cap on to protect the needle.

"One kid took the cap off and he was kind of flailing the needle around, swinging the needle around, and the other kid wasn't even aware that it was a needle - apparently he thought it was a pen."

The second boy asked to see it, and when the other put it in his palm, he got stuck.

Being kids, they didn't think much about it. They continued on to the 7-Eleven, where they made their purchases and, being kids, dropped the hypodermic in the parking lot. It was a cheap, disposable needle.

When they got home, the one that got stuck just told his mom. The family was worried sick. A few days before, they had watched the film "Go Toward the Light," the story of the Ben Oyler, a little LDS boy from Monterey, Calif., who contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion. The disease killed him on July 4, 1986.

When the teenager who had been jabbed realized that AIDS can be transmitted by dirty hypodermics, "of course he was very worried he was just going to die," Bollard said.

The family had yet another disease to fear, hepatitis B, which is sometimes fatal and can be transmitted by blood on needles. "At first, they were petrified," he said.

They went back to the 7-Eleven parking lot and found the needle. They took it to Dr. Harry L. Gibbons, director of the City-County Health Department, who told them there was no evidence of blood on it. Still, that couldn't prove blood wasn't there when the boy was jabbed.

To combat hepatitis B, the youngster needed an inoculation, and he could require as many as four more. Two standard AIDS tests may be made, one at three months and the other at six months, even though the chance of his catching AIDS is remote.

All these precautions involve further needle jabs. "One good stick deserves another," Gibbons said. The cost of tests and shots may total $400 to $500.

The cost to the family's peace of mind is incalculable.

Most likely some careless insulin-user or clinic threw away the syringe. Probably there was no dangerous exposure. But you never know. The needle might have been used by an AIDS-infected doper.

We've become a slovenly country. In some ways this is a degenerating culture. I think America is intellectually promiscuous: any flaky idea goes.

As the father of a nine-year-old who can expect sometime in his childhood to be exposed to everything from the latest voodoo pop psychology to MTV to kids pushing drugs in school, I object.

We can try to teach our kids to be strong, wise and resistant. But does that matter if a boy reaches for a pen and is jabbed with a hypodermic? So let's turn outward. Look at Utah's court files, which document a part of the flood of illicit drugs. It's chilling.

We can't do much about overall social ills, at least not for a long time. But we could crack down on hard drugs as soon as next month.

The legislature meets in mid-January, and I have a modest proposal for it: hard drug abusers should get mandatory prison terms - not just pushers, but all users. There could be an amnesty for anyone who turns himself in and goes on a treatment program.

We'll never dry up the supply as long as people are willing to pay big money for narcotics. If they're in jail, they're not buying. If they face a prison term every time they shoot up, they'll look for help.

The country needs a change. Let it start in Utah.

The alternative is an accelerating downward spiral.