Congress has historically treated drug abuse as a malady afflicting mostly poor, minority communities, best dealt with by locking people up for long periods of time. The epidemic of drug overdose deaths currently ravaging white populations in cities and towns across the country has altered this line of thinking, and forced lawmakers to acknowledge that addiction is a problem that knows no racial barriers and can be best addressed with treatment.
This realization is driving bipartisan support in Washington for saner, less punitive drug policies, some of which Congress had steadfastly resisted for decades.
Recently, Congress effectively lifted a destructive, longstanding ban that prevented state and local governments from using federal money on needle exchange programs. These programs have been shown to slow the spread of H.I.V. and other infections by giving intravenous drug users ready access to clean needles. A similar shift in attitude is reflected in bills like theComprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which is pending in both houses of Congress. Its purpose is to expand and improve drug treatment services nationwide.
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