SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)– Of the more than 107,000 estimated drug overdose deaths in the United States last year, more than 80,000 were the result of opioids.

A Susquehanna County woman who experienced the loss of a child to opioid addiction is trying to spare other families that same pain.

It is called “Forever twenty-eight,” an essay poured out from the heart of a grief-stricken mother. “Pain because Mike’s story can be summarized by one terrible statistic,” reads Ellen Walko.

Ellen Walko of Clifford Township wrote those poignant words about her 28-year-old son, Mike, on November 5, 2016, he became one more statistic of the scourge that is opioid addiction.

“He went from pills to injection. Heroin injection. And that’s how he passed,” she says.

It brought a tragic end to a four-year battle with opioid use disorder. Since her son’s passing, Walko has joined the Wright Center for Community Health Board of Directors and the Wright Center for Patient and Community Engagement. She dedicates herself to raising awareness of the undeniable problem of opioid addiction that’s plagued our country and community for years, a crisis worsened by stigma.

“People have to be able to open the door and walk in and ask for help without being judged,” says Walko.

“We have everything co-located within that clinic as well,” says Shane Colbert from the Wright Center for Community Health.

The Wright Center is among the governor’s centers of excellence for opioid use disorder, a center that staff members say is made even more worthwhile by Walko’s involvement. “The advocacy that she brings and the passion she has for her son and the unfortunate incident that happened, it kind of just brings to the light and allows all of us to take a step back and realize we need to help the community,” says Colbert.

And so many like Mike Walko who had his whole life ahead of him at just 28.

“There are others as affected as our family who together can craft the next chapter of the opiate narrative,” reads Ellen Walko.

Mark will host a half-hour program entitled “Opioids: crisis to hope”. It airs tomorrow night at 7:30 on WYOU, and you can see it again Saturday afternoon at 12:30 and Sunday morning at 6 o’clock on WBRE.