Opportunities for bipartisan Congressional action may seem remote, if not impossible.  But changing attitudes about how the nation responds to the persistent problem of drug addiction present an ideal opportunity for a rare show of bipartisan action.

There’s a growing recognition that the policy of handing down harsh penalties for non-violent drug offenses is an abject failure. The recent prescription drug and heroin epidemics are just the latest proof that we won’t begin to make progress on this grave societal ill by trying to punish it out of existence.

Instead, we need to recognize that drug addiction is a chronic disease that should be treated as such – just like diabetes and heart disease. We don’t send people to prison because they fail to properly manage their cholesterol levels or intake of sugar or fat. Instead, we recognize the complexity of those chronic illnesses and the lack of simple solutions. We offer support to help them make healthier decisions.

While promoting addiction treatment over incarceration may have been seen as a “liberal” approach in the past, conservative policy makers are increasingly recognizing the need to recalibrate after decades of a “tough on crime” approach have not yielded the desired results.  

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP senators call for probe of federal grants on climate change Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — Key ObamaCare groups in limbo | Opioids sending thousands of kids into foster care | House passes bill allowing Medicaid to pay for opioid treatments US watchdog: 'We failed' to stem Afghan opium production MORE (R-Ky.) wrote recently, “I think drugs are a scourge and are bad for young people, but a lifetime in prison as punishment is not an answer.”

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families Lawmakers, businesses await guidance on tax law MORE (R-Ohio): “You cannot talk about poverty without talking about addiction, and addiction is something that a war on drugs is never going to solve.” Portman called for support of legislation “based on what we know works to help people get out of prison and stay out, things like diversion programs and drug courts, job training, and treatment for addiction and mental services.”

They represent an important shift in understanding and policymaking.  And they are not alone.  This summer, the United States Sentencing Commission ruled that nearly 50,000 federal drug offenders currently in prison should be allowed to petition to have their cases reviewed by a judge.  If the judge determines there is no risk to public safety, offenders may have their sentences reduced by about two years. Unless Congress nixes it, this will be an historic step towards recognizing that prison is not the answer to the problem of drug addiction.

A bipartisan Congress can and should do more to accelerate this shift towards treatment, not incarceration.  Three meaningful opportunities are pending in Congress now: renewal of and increased funding for the Second Chance Act; enhanced funding for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant; and more targeted use of Medicaid funds for drug treatment.

Established in 2008 with strong congressional bipartisan support, programs funded by the Second Chance Act help prisoners effectively reintegrate into the community. Its programs have a proven track record of significantly reducing recidivism rates by connecting recently released prisoners with drug treatment and psychiatric counseling. The Act has expired and needs Congress to both renew it and increase its funding.

The Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant funds a broad range of substance use treatment across the country. With many states still experiencing budget challenges, it is essential that Congress find a way to increase funding to meet the growing demand for addiction treatment services, especially in light of the ongoing prescription drug and heroin epidemics.

Finally, the Medicaid program can and should fund a broader array of targeted and specific substance use disorder treatments, including intensive outpatient programs, partial hospital treatment as well as targeted case management and rehabilitative services. These are the same kinds of services provided for other chronic illnesses by states through the Medicaid program, and Congress should ensure these options are available for addiction treatment as well.

Addiction is a disease that recognizes no political boundaries.  Policymakers in Washington should seize the opportunity to promote sensible, bipartisan solutions to the national epidemic of drug addiction.  Doing so will not only demonstrate that Congress can set aside political disagreements and “do the right thing,” but also improve the health of our citizens, our communities and ultimately our nation. 

Ingoglia is the senior vice president for public policy and practice improvement for the National Council for Behavioral Health.