By Alex Zielinski for Think Progress. It’s been over 25 years since Congress decided to ban the use of federal dollars for programs that distribute sterile syringes to intravenous drug users, over the objections of scientists and health experts. But emerging public health crises across the country — like rising heroin use and serious HIV outbreaks — may have triggered a change of heart.

In its massive year-end spending bill, Congress quietly included crucial permission for the Department of Health to fund syringe-exchange programs across the country. This unexpected addition, a move blocked in previous years by the GOP-dominated Congress, comes with equally unexpected sponsors: Republican lawmakers.

Weeks before a New Hampshire forum where GOP presidential candidates unveiled plans to combat heroin addiction, the bill’s passing may reflect a bigger shift in the Republican party’s decades-old outlook on drug policy.

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