Content note: This article contains mentions of drug use and drug overdose death.

Be honest: How much pumpkin spice have you had since October started? It’s cool. I’m not judging.

In fact, if you want more, did you know about these pumpkin spice-scented face masks? Yes, like the kind you wear to help protect yourself and others from COVID-19 transmission. I figured I should clarify since we could also be talking about the skin care kind of face masks, which also exist in pumpkin.

Anyway, I hope you’re enjoying fall. I wanted to start with a light intro, but once again we’re going to get a bit heavy. This issue of The Download discusses the dangers of fentanyl because overdoses are on the rise. But we’ve also got COVID content, a fall running roundup, and more.

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There’s no other way to say it. Last week, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a Public Safety Alert for the first time in 6 years. Deadly counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl and meth have been seized in every U.S. state, with more than 9.5 million pills seized so far this year. Obviously, many more are still circulating.

Authorities have noticed a sharp increase in the availability and lethality of these pills. They’re fake in that they look like prescription Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Xanax, or Adderall, but they have very real and deadly consequences. Laboratory testing confirms that many contain more than 2 milligrams of fentanyl, an amount considered fatal.

The DEA looked at the three most populated counties in Southern California to come up with the following stats. They give you an overall picture of the dangerous fentanyl situation.

Fentanyl stats for Southern Cali

  • In 2020, all drug-caused deaths increased 59 percent when compared to 2019.
  • In 2019, 33 percent of drug-related deaths were due to fentanyl.
  • In 2020, 51 percent of drug-related deaths were due to fentanyl.
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You can also check out this chart to see the sharp uptick in overdose deaths from synthetic opioids, mostly fentanyl, from about 2014 on for the whole U.S. In 2020, drug overdose deaths increased nearly 30 percent when compared to 2019. We don’t have complete data yet for 2021, but we’re seeing trends that could break the 2020 record.

Drug overdose death stats for U.S.

This data comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • 2017: ~72,000
  • 2018: ~67,000
  • 2019: ~70,000
  • 2020: ~93,000
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And they’re even more complicated during a pandemic. Lockdowns, isolation, anxiety, and depression can all worsen existing substance use issues and even increase dangers.

But we’ve been experiencing an opioid crisis/epidemic/whatever you want to call it for a long time now, and it’s only getting worse. I lost a friend to heroin-fentanyl overdose a few years back. The loss of that one very precious life is agonizing to think about. But there are hundreds of thousands of people who are still at risk in the U.S. alone.

The bottom line is that we need better harm-reduction programs to save lives, rather than policies that stigmatize people. What do I mean by “harm reduction”? For example, Rhode Island has the first U.S.-based pilot program of places where people can use drugs under supervision (for safety reasons). At Greatist, we always want to offer resources without any judgment. So here they are.


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What’s your kid going to be for Halloween? Maybe an almost-vaxxed kid! Pfizer and BioNTech have submitted data to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from their COVID-19 vaccine trials in children ages 5 to 11. The dose studied is 10 micrograms, a third of that used for peeps 12 and up. The companies have said the clinical trial data shows the dose is safe and produces a “robust” immune response.

Up next, the companies say they plan to request emergency use authorization (EUA). The FDA has to review the data, and then the advisory committee would meet to make a recommendation on the potential EUA. If the FDA grants the EUA, then the CDC convenes its vaccine committee to discuss whether to recommend the vax.

All this is to say that things are in motion! And that’s exciting for parents with school-age babes who aren’t yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Woot!

Speaking of vaccines… YouTube is taking a stand against disinformation and blocking all anti-vax content, with certain exceptions for scientific and historical discussions. The company was already taking down disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. But now it’s extending that policy to killing anti-vax content about any currently administered vaccines that are approved and deemed safe by the World Health Organization (WHO).

FYI: In 2019, the WHO labeled vaccine hesitancy as a top-10 threat to global health. We are seeing that threat play out in real time amid a pandemic. Many people who are eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. are still resisting the poke. Experts say misinformation is a leading cause of that vaccine hesitancy.

I’m guessing probs not. But I do want to make a quick note about West Nile virus. You might be hearing a bit about it on the news since this is the season it often gets some buzz.

Experts say the nation’s overall cases of infection are on par with other years. However, some areas are experiencing more cases (and related deaths) than others. Check out this map. If you’re spending time outdoors, it’s always smart to take extra precautions against skeeter bites. Plus, you’ll save yourself the itch.

Fall is my favorite time of year because the hot Hades-scape of summer in Tennessee starts to dissipate and running feels fun again instead of like treading water in the humidity. I like the crunch of leaves underfoot, even if those leaves tend to hide tree roots that trip me…

Anyway, all this is to say that at Greatist the team has been writing a lot about everything running-related. Whether you’re a running newb or a seasoned logger of miles, we’ve got fall running content for you, including tips for running in the rain and what to wear for cold-weather running — unless you like to wear your shorts all year round.

We hope you’ll lace up and hit the trails or the starting line with us. I can confirm that the runner’s high is for reals, y’all.