WHERE'S ALL THE VICODIN? A BILLION VICODIN PILLS are off the market after moving the drug and similar products from Schedule III to the more restrictive Schedule II on the federal controlled substances list, according to Medpage Today. The move, put into effect by the DEA in October 2014 has seen 1.1 billion fewer tablets and 26.3 million fewer prescriptions for the drug in the first year after the change — a positive number that will hopefully have a direct impact on the opioid crisis. “I think when we look back on this 10 or 20 years from now, we’ll see this was a very important policy change — maybe one of the most effective federal interventions to control the opioid addiction crisis,” Andrew Kolodny, M.D., chief medical officer of the addiction rehabilitation program Phoenix House, told Medpage Today.

OTHER SHORTAGES ARE A PROBLEM. A Boston Globe article reports drug shortages in U.S. emergency departments rose to 123 in 2014 from 23 in 2008, a 435 percent climb. Of those drug shortages, most are used for direct, lifesaving interventions. The author of the original study, Jesse Pines, director of the Office for Clinical Practice Innovation at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, helped determine that of the 610 reported emergency medicine drug shortages, 52.6 percent were drugs used during lifesaving interventions. More concerning than that, 32 of those drugs had no substitute. So what’s to blame? There isn’t any single factor to point to, but a sharp increase in shortages may be linked to the financial crisis, according to the article. Other possible factors include increased FDA oversight of drug manufacturers and low Medicare reimbursement rates. The New York Times in a separate piece describes the difficult choices the shortages can create.

TEMPERATURES UP, FLU CASES DOWN. Experts say the unusually warm December may be preventing the spread of influenza. A Los Angeles Times article reports just three flu-related deaths in California since October, down from 78 last year and 146 in 2014. Temperatures are up partly because of El Nino, and our hottest and wettest December ever recorded have produced conditions ideal for residents and unfavorable for the spread of the flu. Health officials, including Lynnette Brammer, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, remain cautious. “It may peak in February, it may be a little bit later. I don’t know, but we’re definitely seeing a true increase in flu activity,” she said. It’s also believed most flu strains circulating are the same as last year's, meaning those infected likely still have some immunity. This year’s flu shots also contain the same strain in circulation, which certainly provides strong protection against influenza.

IS THERE AN APP FOR THAT? A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found young adults who frequent social media are more likely to suffer sleep disturbances than those who use social media less. The study surveyed 1,778 U.S. adults ages 19 through 32 on their social media use and sleep disturbances. “This is one of the first pieces of evidence that social media use really can impact your sleep,” said lead author Jessica Levenson, postdoctoral researcher at Pitt’s department of psychiatry. Those checking social media most frequently had three times the likelihood of sleep disturbance, and those who spent the most time had twice the risk of disturbance. So it may be better to get your Twitter fix in large doses rather than bite-sized portions. 

HELP WANTED: GERIATRICIANS. By 2030, around 31 million Americans will be older than 75, and with nearly 7,000 geriatricians in practice in the U.S. today, medical schools would need to train 6,250 new geriatricians between now and 2030 to meet the demand, according to a recent New York Times article. The shortage is no secret, as geriatrics is among the lowest-paying specialties in medicine and the federal insurance program’s low reimbursement rates make sustaining a practice very difficult. While geriatrics consistently ranks at the bottom of the list of specialties pursued in internal medicine, some alternative methods are being tested to train health care professionals in a geriatric perspective rather than creating more geriatricians. “One of the greatest stories of the 20th century was that we doubled life expectancy in adults,” said Terry Fulmer, president of the John Hartford Foundation, which funds programs to improve the care of older adults. “Now, we need to make sure we have all the supports in place to assure not just a long life but a high quality of that long life.”