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Proposed Federal Spending Bill Expands Addiction Treatment Eligibility

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Congress is expected to vote on a government spending bill this week that would allow money earmarked for opioid use disorder to be used to treat other addictions. The provision, authored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, comes in response to concerns that federal money coming into New Hampshire was too narrowly tailored to the opioid crisis.

Shaheen’s office said the provision will allow the $1.5 billion set aside for the federal government’s State Opioid Response (SOR) grants to help cover treatment of cocaine and methamphetamine use disorders in addition to opioid use disorder.

"The substance use disorder epidemic we’re facing today isn’t the same one we were fighting a few years ago, so as this crisis evolves so should our response, Shaheen said in a statement.

“By empowering treatment providers with the ability to use these federal grants for a broader range of substance misuse, we can help ensure more Granite Staters get the help they desperately need."

The change comes as New Hampshire documents more meth-related overdose deaths and states across the U.S. report an increase in meth use.

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Peter Fifield runs the Doorway program at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, which is funded through a $35 million SOR grant New Hampshire received in 2019 for the statewide Doorways network.

Fifield says the majority of their patients struggle primarily with opioid use disorder, but the office has been limited when someone shows up seeking help with meth, cocaine, or alcohol use.

“It’s hard to say no to someone who’s coming in and is very under-resourced,” he says.

Fifield hopes the new flexibility with the SOR grant will help more clients access the Doorway’s full services, which include help with rent for sober living, childcare, transportation, and phones.

Under Shaheen's compromise provision, the money from SOR grants still cannot be used to treat people seeking help solely with alcohol use disorder, which many providers warn is still the most common and most deadly substance use disorder in New Hampshire.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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