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Opioid Abuse Tied to Job Loss; New “Red Scare” Fears Emerge; Physician Salary by Specialty; and Other Items of Interest

CNN reported that in one U.S. county, opioid overdose death rates rose by 85% among working-age adults during the five years following the closure of an automotive assembly plant, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine, seemingly linking opioid abuse with employment prospects.
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The Atlantic discussed research bolstering the idea that job loss and dwindling economic opportunity could be major drivers of the opioid epidemic and Americans’ declining life expectancy, leading to “deaths of despair.”
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In rural communities, which see the highest rates of overdose deaths, doctors tend to prescribe more opioids, and residents lack access to addiction specialists and medication — and the burden of care often falls onto already overloaded family practice physicians, reported NPR.
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The Washington Post featured an analysis of data showing when and where the three waves of the opioid epidemic — prescription pills, then heroin, and finally fentanyl — washed through American communities.
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During the height of the opioid epidemic, the FDA never followed through on improvements to a program that required opioid makers to pay for safety training for many of the physicians prescribing their drugs, even though the agency’s own reviews determined the program was deficient, reported the New York Times in coverage of a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
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After devastating American communities, fentanyl is making its way into Asian communities that are even less prepared and less equipped to deal with the powerful synthetic opioid, reported CNN.
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Zaosong Zheng, a Chinese cancer researcher working at a laboratory at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, was apprehended by customs officers in early December at a Boston airport for attempting to steal 21 vials of cancer cells and use them to boost his career back in China, reported the New York Times. “This is one of the few cases where there’s been stealing of physical material as well as the stealing of ideas. It’s an escalation over most of what we’ve been seeing,” said AAMC Chief Scientific Officer Ross McKinney, MD, who was quoted in the piece.
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Bloomberg additionally reported on the fear of a new “red scare” emerging as more research institutions raise the alarm around credible and noncredible allegations of intellectual theft and spying perpetrated by Chinese scientists at U.S. universities. Ross McKinney, MD, AAMC’s chief scientific officers, also was quoted in this article.
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He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who genetically edited babies in an experiment that received widespread international condemnation, has been sentenced to three years in prison in China, reported the New York Times.
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Orthopedists top the list of the 20 highest-paid specialties, according to a MedPage Today online survey conducted in the fall of 2019 and reported in Fierce Healthcare. Cardiology and urology round out the top three, with pediatricians and family medicine specialists on the lower end of the salary spectrum. The article notes a disparity between specialty salary versus specialty demand.
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AAMCNews published a story on the power of gratitude, featuring an interview with CFAS Administrative Board member Catherine Pipas, MD, professor of community and family medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. Dr. Pipas, along with former CFAS Administrative Board member and former Council of Academic Societies chair Kathleen Nelson, MD, and former AAMC Board of Directors member Keli Harding, MD, recently presented a session on the power of gratitude at Learn Serve Lead 2019: The AAMC Annual Meeting in Phoenix. Dr. Harding is also interviewed in the article.
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A New York Times story titled “Older People Need Geriatricians. Where Will They Come From?” discussed the ongoing struggle to recruit doctors to care for older patients, noting open slots in residency and training programs for geriatrics. The American Geriatric Society, a CFAS member, contributed data to the article.
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“[N]urses and physicians must come together. We must acknowledge the harm done by these ever-increasing documentation requirements, without losing the core benefits of electronic record keeping,” wrote Stephen Bergman, MD, a professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health, and Theresa Brown, RN, a clinical faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing in an op-ed in the New York Times. The piece recommended reforming electronic health records to mirror how they are used in the VA health care system as documentation of “only what’s necessary to deliver better care.”
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The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld risk payments of billions of dollars to insurers under the Affordable Care Act, reversing a lower court decision, reported Reuters.
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Modern Healthcare covered the ruling in an article that noted how the decision is good for larger insurance companies with a higher number of claims. Companies that offer less comprehensive, low-cost plans have argued they are disadvantaged by the model.
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CNBC ran a piece explaining how the Affordable Care Act transformed the health care system in the United States.
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The New York Times reported on religious-based medical cost-sharing programs that appear to mimic medical insurance but do not operate in the same regulatory world. State agencies are becoming increasingly involved in the practices of these organizations, which may offer services at a lower cost than insurance company premiums, but often provide less coverage and are unbounded by legal requirements governing health insurance.
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The quality of care at hospitals acquired during a recent spate of consolidations declined or stayed the same, reported the Wall Street Journal in coverage of a NEJM article exploring the issue. The story also was covered by Modern Healthcare, which focused on the concern among some that mergers are seen as an opportunity to increase revenue rather than to improve standards across a health network.
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“Political appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions and in some cases pressured researchers not to speak publicly,” said the Washington Post in an article about the Trump administration’s relationship with federal scientists.
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The 2010s saw the world lose ground on combatting climate change and we can’t afford to repeat the same mistake this decade, said the Washington Post.
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An op-ed in The Hill commended Congress for recent loosening of restrictions on gun violence research and urged a more data-driven approach to understanding and preventing gun violence. “[Our] elected officials must support the implementation of commonsense interventions already backed by unbiased, nonpartisan research. We recognize this complex public health problem requires a multifaceted approach, so let us begin with our most promising, evidence-based interventions,” wrote pediatrician Michael K. Hole, MD, of University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School, and trauma surgeon Joseph V. Sakran, MD, of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
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Researchers from Google and medical centers in the United States and Britain published a study in Nature showing that artificial intelligence can identify cancer hiding in breast tissue even after six radiologists previously failed to find it, said the New York Times.
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AAMCNews pulled together its top 10 stories of 2019, which included topics such as why women leave medicine, whether the USMLE should be pass/fail, and the circumstances around the closure of Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia.
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Davy Cheng, MD, has had his appointment as acting dean of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University extended for an additional four-month term, concluding on April 30.
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Mallary Myers has been named vice president and chief innovation officer for Augusta University Health, effective Jan. 3. Myers most recently served as the system vice president of operational improvement and innovation at Baptist Health.
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Panayiotis Varelas, MD, PhD, has been appointed chair of the Department of Neurology at Albany Med. Dr. Varelas, a neurointensivist, previously served as director of the neuro intensive care unit, which he established, at Henry Ford Hospital.

Wendy Chung, MD, PhD, has been named chief of the Division of Clinical Genetics in the Department of Pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Dr. Chung is the Kennedy Family Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia.
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Anne Becker, MD, PhD, has been named dean for clinical and academic affairs at Harvard Medical School, effective April 1. Dr. Becker serves as the Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School.
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Joseph Ouzounian, MD, MBA, has been appointed permanent chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. Dr. Ouzounian has been serving as interim chair since Nov. 1, 2018.
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Neal Weintraub, MD, has been appointed chief of the Division of Cardiology in the Department of Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Dr. Weintraub is associate director of the Vascular Biology Center at the Medical College of Georgia.
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Welcome to 2020! NPR’s Goats and Sodas blog, which focuses on global health, offered a number of predictions for the coming year, breaking them down into the hopeful (positive efforts from youth activists and improved access to college) and the not-so-hopeful (stalled gender equity efforts and second-tier diseases spiking).
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Looking back on the scientific year that was, LiveScience ran a summary of the “10 Weirdest Science Studies of 2019,” including such gems as the hunt for Loch Ness monster DNA and the mosquito’s aversion to certain loud music, particularly the recordings of producer/DJ Skrillex – it’s actually that specific.
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From a wonkier, inside-the-Beltway perspective, The Hill predicted health care legislation and regulation topics on tap for 2020, with issues such as rural and mental health access, cyber security, drug prices, and health care reform likely to be debated in the Capitol.
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And finally, from the CFAS News “Nature Is Cruel” desk, comes a story of unfair parental preference for splashy offspring over more ordinary offspring, compounded by a seemingly irrational affection for the baby of the family. In an evolutionary tale familiar to anyone who is firstborn (as well as those last-born, such as the editor of CFAS News), research out of the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) found that the generally drab and abundant American coot — a common water bird sporting undistinguished adult plumage — will produce copious chicks that happen to have brighter, more colorful feathers in reverse hatching order. The younger siblings always have brighter plumage, which their parents prefer and do little to conceal from the older coot hatchlings. Doting coot parents subsequently give their youngest chicks more attention (and food) from an early age, excluding the older chicks, which leads to not-so-great consequences for the firstborn. “They're complicated birds,” said Bruce Lyon, PhD, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCSC and first author of the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. May we all be better caregivers than coot parents in 2020.
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Visit the CFAS Resources page for an archive of the previous edition of CFAS News as well as our People of Academic Medicine page, which features a running list of academic promotions, appointments, and departures.

Your comments and news tips are always welcome. Please email them to Eric Weissman at eweissman@aamc.org.

Eric Weissman
Senior Director, Faculty and Academic Society Engagement
AAMC
eweissman@aamc.org
www.aamc.org/members/cfas

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