David Lunn Jr. died alone on Jan. 5, 2019, his body pressed against the basement door of the laundry room of a rundown apartment building not far from the famous Pimlico Race Course. Officials said the cause of death was a fentanyl overdose, making him one of the first of what Baltimore officials expect will be more than 800 opioid fatalities last year.
Of course, the 2019 homicide rate in Baltimore was historic, with the second most ( 347 murders) in the city's history. There were 353 murders in 1993 (during the height of the crack epidemic). Meanwhile, the near triple number of opioid fatalities can't even made page D in the news.
All we ever hear about are the murders in Baltimore, how dangerous Baltimore is, the "squeegee boys", the corrupt politicians, the mismanaged schools, the Ravens, the Wire....... but can't get even get a whisper concerning the opioid crisis that faces the city.
Lunn’s death at age 37 brought a tragic end to a promising life. His basketball prowess and magnetic personality brought him no shortage of opportunity. He attended an elite private school, earned a scholarship to the University of Delaware and played professionally in Denmark, where he also dabbled in modeling.
Later, Lunn worked helping to market his family’s welding business. He traveled widely and collected a broad array of friends. But it all was undermined by his hunger for drugs — heroin and eventually other, more lethal, opioids.
David Lunn Jr. in fall 2018, months before his death.
It is a story that is becoming more and more common among African Americans across the country. From 2016 to 2017, the latest years for which the federal government has statistics, the number of opioid overdose deaths for African Americans increased by more than 25% to 5, 513 — the largest percentage increase among any ethnic or racial group.
(Deaths among non-Hispanic whites increased 11% to 37,113.) Meanwhile, in the same time period, the number of African Americans who died from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which can be 50 times more powerful than heroin, increased by nearly 61% (to a total of 3,832 deaths), compared with a 45% increase for whites (for a total of 21,956).
In Baltimore, the city with the nation’s highest overdose fatality rate, the toll has been particularly devastating. Through Sept. 30, there were 639 opioid related deaths in Baltimore, a city with just over 600,000 residents. That put the city on track to exceed the 814 deaths in 2018, 692 in 2017, and 628 in 2016, according to Baltimore’s Health Department. (Year-end numbers will not be available for another couple of months.) Opioid fatalities are more than double the city’s notoriously high number of murders, which in recent years have topped 300 annually.
The drug deaths are a quiet catastrophe that often ensnares people like Lunn who otherwise were leading productive lives. Donnell “Mookie” Dobbins, who runs the Team Thrill AAU basketball program in Baltimore where Lunn was a high school star, grew up playing with and against him.
“His death is by far the hardest death I have ever been associated with,” said Dobbins, who was among the pallbearers at Lunn’s funeral. “Where we are from drug addiction is almost normal, but that is something even now I cannot fathom David being part of.”
When politicians and others talk about the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic, they frequently cite the carnage in largely rural, white areas. Places such as West Virginia, or eastern Ohio, or the small towns and hollows of Kentucky. And the damage to those communities is real, as opioids have killed thousands, contributing to an alarming decline in life expectancy and altering life for those left behind.
The white face of opioid addiction has prompted a flood of attention, and evoked a measure of empathy that has been lacking in places like predominantly black Baltimore. Here, the long-festering opioid problem has destroyed families and sped the decline of entire neighborhoods for many decades.
Now, the crisis among African Americans is quietly growing more deadly with the advent of hyperpotent drugs such as fentanyl, which is often mixed with heroin and cocaine before being sold on the streets.
For too long across black America and in Baltimore, addiction was largely framed as part of a larger crime problem, and its victims were seen mostly as faceless junkies. One thing is for sure: To the many people who knew and loved David Lunn Jr., he was no faceless junkie.