Skip to contents
Health

Colorado officials created greeting cards to destigmatize the opioid epidemic. They didn’t order nearly enough.

The state made almost 10,000 cards with money from a federal grant but it took only four days for them to go out of stock

Charlotte Whitney, who leads the opioid greeting card project for the state, reads a card at the Capitol this week. Whitney plans to bring the kiosk of cards across Colorado. (Jennifer Brown, The Colorado Sun)
  • Credibility:

One greeting card promises never to refer to this “bumpy, curvy, hot mess” as a journey. Another jokes, “We’ll always have coffee.” 

They look like a batch of Hallmark cards, but these are different — 34 designs specifically to offer encouragement to people recovering from opioid addiction, or sympathy and understanding to their family members. 

Colorado printed 10,000 of them. They ran out in less than a week.

“We thought this would be huge, but we didn’t fully anticipate the level of enthusiasm that we would receive,” said Elizabeth Owens, director of policy and communications for the state Office of Behavioral Health. 

The cards, which are free, became available for online ordering at the end of last week. Nearly all of the designs — 28 out of 34 — are out of stock after 1,800 orders. Customers first were allowed 10 apiece, then the state dropped it to five, and then two. Now the behavioral health office is whipping up a second batch.

Colorado used grant funds to create a line of greeting cards for people recovering from opioid addiction and their families. A kiosk of the cards was on display this week at the state Capitol. The effort was aimed at opening up the conversation and destigmatizing addiction. (Jennifer Brown, The Colorado Sun)

The social-media buzz reached beyond Colorado, with several of the orders originating in other states. Mission accomplished: the whole point was to open up the conversation on opioid addiction, help destigmatize the disease, and give words to people who aren’t sure what to say. 

A kiosk of the cards, or what’s left of them, was on display in the Capitol rotunda Monday while a legislative committee on the epidemic that killed 570 Coloradans in 2017 alone met down the hallway.

“They were so much more than their addiction. Remember their laughs, their love, their light.”

“Thank you for being there for me when I was doing everything I could to push you away.” 

“I will never give up on you.”

A sampling of the cards from the Recovery Cards Project. (recoverycardsproject.com/)

The cards were funded through a portion of a $53 million federal grant to increase access to opioid treatment in Colorado and were designed with feedback from people in recovery, as well as relatives of those who died of overdoses. They were sketched and painted by 10 artists, including four in addiction recovery. 

Most of the grant funds spent since 2017 have gone toward making medically assisted treatment, called buprenorphine, available through doctors’ offices in rural communities instead of only at urban methadone clinics. About 700 doctors’ offices across the state now offer the treatment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant also funded six mobile treatment clinics, vans, that will run daily routes in rural Colorado.

A new line of greeting cards aimed at opening up the conversation on opioid addiction became available for free last week. The cards were nearly gone within four days. A new batch is expected to be available online by mid-October. (Jennifer Brown, The Colorado Sun)

Besides increasing access to treatment, Colorado officials wanted to destigmatize it so people are more likely to ask for help. The state Office of Behavioral Health created the “Lift the Label” campaign, a social-media blitz that highlights personal stories of people who have survived heroin or prescription opioid addiction, or who have lost family members. 

About $332,000 went toward the greeting cards, including artists’ fees, the website, printing, marketing and shipping. 

“It’s about making this a normal conversation, and about showing that someone who is struggling with addiction should be met with empathy and support,” Owens said. 

For Kaley Jones, who has been in recovery for nine years and provided input for the project, the greeting cards hold much deeper meaning than the words printed inside. 

It was a few days before her 19th birthday when Jones’ parents discovered her stash of spoons and needles. She had been using intravenous heroin for four years while maintaining a 3.98 grade-point average at her Colorado Springs high school and working at an Alzheimer’s care unit. 

Jones’ parents staged an intervention on her 19th birthday and sent her to a treatment center for the next nine months. But, even among longtime friends, they were uncomfortable talking about their daughter’s addiction and friends didn’t know what to say, Jones recalled. “On the surface, everything looked so put together.”

Jones’ mother felt like she couldn’t tell any of the women in her golf club that her daughter was addicted to heroin. Yet when she eventually did, she learned that one of her best friends on the golf course had been in recovery for more than 20 years. 

Years later, the family still remembers when the mother of one of Jones’ high school friends reached out and simply said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. There are people around you who want to help you.” It was rare, and it matters to them still, Jones said.

At the treatment center, when Jones was not allowed to talk on the phone, the letters from her family felt like lifelines. “I felt like I was getting pushed into a place where I would be out of sight, out of mind,” said Jones, who is a national engagement officer for The Phoenix, which organizes sober events.

Even now, the words in the cards struck Jones, 28, as the exact ones she needed to hear when she was overcoming heroin addiction. She picked up a few of the cards for friends in recovery after browsing them at the state Capitol. Her favorite card has a bunch of green bananas on the front. A sticker on them says, “Give it time. It gets better.”

“Sometimes, we can’t hear it,” she said. “We have to read it to be able to digest it.”  

State officials expect to have the cards restocked and ready for ordering by mid-October. A display will travel to various public buildings throughout the state so people can pick them up in person.

The Colorado Sun has no paywall, meaning readers do not have to pay to access stories. We believe vital information needs to be seen by the people impacted, whether it’s a public health crisis, investigative reporting or keeping lawmakers accountable.

This reporting depends on support from readers like you. For just $5/month, you can invest in an informed community.