House approves bill to launch opioids task force

House approves bill to launch opioids task force
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The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill to create a national task force on opioid policies, which advocates hope will spur a major overhaul to the government’s approach to addiction.

Lawmakers voted 412 to 4 to support the bill from Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), one of 18 House bills this week aimed at halting the scourge of drug overdoses over the last decade.

The task force would be led by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and would include a voice from nearly every corner of the healthcare sector, from hospitals CEOs to patients suffering from chronic pain.

The task force would have five years to set national guidelines for doctors prescribing opioids, which lawmakers hope will rein in the use of unneeded medications that could lead to potentially deadly addictions. 

Brooks' bill is a cornerstone of the House GOP's push on opioids this week.  

House GOP leadership say they hope to conference their opioids legislation package with the Senate's version, which was passed in March, sometime this month. 

The Brooks bill touches on the controversial issue of prescriber training.

Doctors groups have long fought against any kind of federal rules on treating or prescribing for pain. While Brooks’ bill does not call for any new mandates, it would charge the task force with coming up with “best practices” for pain management and prescribing medication.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) has expressed some concerns about the bill.

"HR 4641 is a step in the right direction, but the AAFP would like to see it go farther in ensuring that treatment patients receive is based on research showing that treatment’s effectiveness," Dr. Wanda Filer, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, wrote in a statement to The Hill. 

The American Medical Association, which has advocated strongly against any prescriber education mandates, has not taken a position.

Last month, AAFP wrote to the House Energy and Commerce to "caution against" the bill.

A spokeswoman for the group said in an email Wednesday that lawmakers had clarified that the bill specifically called for evidence-based recommendations, "so that has mitigated our response."