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Washington – Alarmed by a deadly new twist in the nation’s drug addiction crisis, the government will allow states to use federal money earmarked for the opioid epidemic to help growing numbers of people struggling with meth and cocaine.

The little-noticed change is buried in a massive spending bill passed by Congress late last year. Pressed by constituents and state officials, lawmakers of both parties and the Trump administration agreed to broaden the scope of a $1.5 billion grant program previously restricted to the opioid crisis. Starting this year states can also use those federal dollars to counter addiction to “stimulants,” a term the government uses for methamphetamine and cocaine.

“Meth and cocaine are making a comeback and they are more potent than they were during the last wave,” said Mark Stringer, director of Missouri’s Department of Mental Health. He oversees the state’s efforts to prevent addiction, get drug-dependent people into treatment, and support them in recovery. “Where meth is much more prevalent than opioids, this will be a game-changer.”

About 68,000 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2018, with opioids involved in about two-thirds of the cases. Opioids are a drug class that includes fentanyl, heroin, certain prescription painkillers, and various chemical combinations concocted for street sales. But the national numbers also hide dramatic differences in the deadliest drugs across the land.

In most states west of the Mississippi meth is the biggest killer, according to government data for 2017. Meanwhile, the highly lethal opioid fentanyl maintains its grip on the East and Midwest. Cocaine ranks third overall nationally in drug-involved deaths.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., whose state has been hard-hit by the opioid epidemic, said she was hearing from all quarters last year that the drug-addiction scourge is gradually changing.

“They were seeing much more impact from meth and from cocaine, substances they couldn’t address because of specific language in the law,” said Shaheen, referring to previous restrictions in the federal grant program aimed at opioids.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which writes spending bills, Shaheen said she worked with Republican and Democratic leaders to add “stimulants” – not only opioids – to the language of the 2020 spending bill.

White House drug czar James W. Carroll said the Trump administration was also hearing calls for more flexibility from state officials, and supported the change.

“I know the term ‘opioid crisis’ is used a lot, and it’s not my preferred way of describing what we’re up against,” said Carroll. “I say what we really have is an addiction crisis.”

Other senators pushing to broaden the grant program included Republicans Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, also a member of the Appropriations Committee. Their states have been ravaged by opioids.

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