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Wes Moore: Changing the world with David in mind

David Lunn Jr.
David Lunn Jr. (Handout)

My friend David Lunn Jr. died of a drug overdose on Jan. 5, one of Maryland’s first opioid casualties of 2019. He died alone in a basement in Baltimore, a city where 692 people died from opioids in 2017 — an unacceptable number that the latest data, when it’s released, will almost certainly confirm went up in 2018. I’ve struggled with whether to publicly share this, both because of concern for David’s privacy and trouble processing my own feelings. But at his funeral, the pastor reminded us we should not be ashamed nor hold our heads down because of this illness that took our friend. And David’s mom, whom I adore deeply, asked us not to be quiet about her son.

She asked us to never forget him and to tell his story any time we can, so that he can continue to have an impact long after he’s gone. She asked us to go change the world with his memory in mind. And so, here I am.

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I choose to remember David the way he stands in a photo taken a few months ago at Bethel AME church: humble, kind, giving glory to God. But I could not do service to his memory and to his mom’s wishes at his funeral without taking stock of his entire life — a life that, in so many ways, was a warring face-off between his promise and his circumstances.

 

David was a third generation Baltimorean, the only son of one of the kindest and most loving families I have ever known. As a young man growing up in Baltimore in the ‘90s, he saw a spectrum of opportunity and disadvantage that always seemed to put sustained success just beyond certainty. When he was 14, his father was shot six times trying to retrieve David’s stolen bicycle. David’s father would survive, but his injuries haunt him to this day.

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David’s brilliance in the classroom and on the basketball court carried him to one of the top private schools in the state, and then to a Division I college scholarship, only to see injuries derail his playing career.

He received his bachelor’s degree and earned credit toward a master’s and was an executive at a minority-owned welding company and a youth basketball coach. He was an incredible father, brother, son, uncle and friend — a dear friend to me for 25 years, since we were kids.

In the months and weeks before his death, David reached out to his close friends for help in how to battle his illness. In some of my last conversations with him, he would say that his fear was that he would disappoint us. My fear now is that we could disappoint him.

He had so many more resources and connections than many people battling drug addiction in Baltimore. We found a rehab program for him out of state, hoping to pair high-quality treatment with a change in environment. His father has been sober for 26 years, a hard-fought change born from treatment in Pennsylvania.

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Last year, 858 Maryland residents died due to alcohol or drug intoxication; that's enough to replace the entire University of Maryland football team more than eight times. This year is on track to be even more deadly.

But David couldn’t go. He was on probation until last summer from a 2017 possession of marijuana charge and largely forsaken by a system that treats a health crisis like it’s a crime. Our policies around drug addiction too often castigate people who need help. That’s true of both our criminal justice system and our health care system. Here in Maryland, insurance providers only have to provide coverage for 30 days of inpatient treatment. Research shows us that the overwhelming majority of people experience at least one relapse on their road to recovery, but our policies neglect that reality, offering people like David just one chance at this lifesaving step.

There are far too few solutions to far too big of a problem. David’s death this month at 37 came in spite of a life filled with love, opportunity, impact and hope. But he lived his whole life that way — fighting for his potential to overwhelm his impediments.

His loss is nothing short of a tragedy and a travesty, for those who knew and loved him and the community he worked to change through his leadership, coaching, mentoring and example of how to be a good friend and family member.

I write this to try to ensure that David’s legacy includes creating more compassion and more pathways. We need to love one another in a way that reflects this life’s urgency and fragility. We need to change the way we talk about addiction.

Step one is reminding people that the disease of addiction is something we must treat like all other diseases — with urgency, compassion and understanding that the victim is exactly that: a victim. We must remind people that there is no typical or predictable person suffering from addiction, and that their pain must be met with resolve and never silence.

Rest in peace, David. I miss you, and I promise to change the world with your memory in mind. I will love you forever.

Wes Moore is an author, combat veteran and social entrepreneur. Twitter: @iamwesmoore.

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