New Betty Ford stamp completes unofficial trilogy of prevention, treatment and recovery stamps

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
7 min readMar 4, 2024


By Jeremiah Gardner

NOTE: This was published for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s monthly Recovery Advocacy Update. If you’d like to receive our advocacy emails, subscribe today.

(L to R) Postmaster General Louis Dejoy, Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Trustee Susan Ford Bales and U.S. First Lady Jill Biden look on as Hazelden Betty Ford President and CEO Dr. Joe Lee speaks at the unveiling of the new Betty Ford Commemorative Forever® Stamp, held in the East Room of the White House on March 6, 2024.

Recovery was front and center when the U.S. Postal Service and First Lady Jill Biden unveiled the new Betty Ford postage stamp at the White House on March 6, 2024. Joining Dr. Biden and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on the stage were Hazelden Betty Ford Trustee Susan Ford Bales (Mrs. Ford’s daughter) and President and CEO Dr. Joe Lee — all four of whom extolled the global impact of Mrs. Ford’s recovery advocacy.

It wasn’t the first time a stamp sparked public dialogue about addiction-related issues. The Postal Service previously issued stamps related to the prevention (1971) and treatment (1981) of addiction. While Mrs. Ford’s celebrated legacy goes beyond her influential recovery advocacy, her name is so synonymous with recovery that many will celebrate hers as the first recovery stamp — completing an unofficial trilogy of prevention, treatment and recovery stamps.

An unofficial trilogy (L to R): prevention stamp in 1971, treatment stamp in 1981 and recovery stamp in 2024.

Progress on imagery and messaging

The three stamps in the trilogy each tell different stories and, in some ways, depict 53 years of evolving messages about substance use issues in American culture.

The 1971 “Prevent Drug Abuse” stamp and its related merchandise for collectors depicted the wreckage of addiction; graphic images of needles, bottles and substance use; and monstrous specters invoking fear but little hope — typical of the moralized and stigmatizing views of the day. The campaign included a tagline that referred to addiction as “an increasing menace to society,” rather than a health condition. And it focused exclusively on drugs other than alcohol. Perhaps the nation — just a generation or so clear of Prohibition — wasn’t ready to prevent alcohol misuse, too.

Over the next decade, addiction treatment and Twelve Step recovery culture exploded across the country, thanks in part to the Hazelden Foundation’s development and export of the first replicable treatment model, Hazelden Publishing’s success in getting recovery literature into the mainstream, and the recovery advocacy of numerous public figures— most notably, former First Lady Betty Ford.

In that context, the 1981 “Alcoholism: You Can Beat It” stamp took a huge step forward in terms of what it depicted — alcoholism as a treatable health care condition. Though some of the related merchandise for collectors still focused on images of despair, others showed counseling scenes and happy families — a stark and hopeful contrast to the images from 1971.

The 1981 stamp was not a home run commercially, though. Few people bought the stamps. Why? People didn’t want to insinuate that the receivers of their mail had a drinking problem. Perhaps using the second-person language of “You can beat it” was a misstep, or maybe just ahead of its time. The tepid public embrace, if nothing else, revealed that stigma was still strong in hearts and minds, and that America probably wasn’t ready for a public health message that close to home.

Beyond the trilogy of stamps described, the only other substance use-related stamp in U.S. history (that I’m aware of) was a “Drug Free USA” stamp issued in 2020. To some, it was another prevention stamp. To others, it may have been plain or pollyanish. Though I don’t recall it garnering a great deal of attention, I enjoyed one rather fun first-day cover, featuring a Yoda -like character.

Aware of this stamp history, I was able to suggest the following, on behalf of Hazelden Betty Ford, to Members of Congress in 2016:

We know that perceptions of addiction change for the better when people are exposed to others who are in recovery. When they see successful, well-adjusted, grateful folks in recovery, they more quickly recognize and internalize the reality that addiction is a health problem which can indeed be overcome, rather than a reflection of inherent character. …We think it’s time for a Recovery Stamp, and one that depicts the promise and possibility of recovery — perhaps even one with the face of First Lady Betty Ford on it.

We didn’t pursue the idea aggressively, and it never took off. But last year, the Postal Service (unaware of our idea) surprised the Ford family, and then us, with word that it had decided independently to issue a Betty Ford stamp. As luck would have it, the Recovery Stamp — as I immediately thought of it — would also be issued in Hazelden Betty Ford’s 75th anniversary year … and during Women’s History Month!

It was surreal to be in the White House for the Betty Ford stamp unveiling and to hear my CEO, Dr. Lee, conclude his remarks with these words honoring Mrs. Ford’s world-changing recovery advocacy:

“Throughout history, there are times when courageous people stand up and change the conversation for America. Betty Ford did that for both breast cancer and addiction — replacing shame and isolation with dignity, community and equitable care. Millions of people in this country felt seen for the very first time. And that is why Betty Ford is a national treasure, and why all of us feel inspired for a lifetime to carry her charge.”

And it was amazing for the nation to hear First Lady Jill Biden describe why recovery advocacy is so important:

“Most of all, Betty gave us hope. Hope that tomorrow is a brighter day. Hope that this too will pass. Hope that even in the depths of despair, the human will is limitless. As many at the Betty Ford Center would say: ‘If Betty can do it, I can do it.’”

United States First Lady Jill Biden honors Betty Ford at the White House on March 6, 2024.
Susan Ford Bales (left) and Hazelden Betty Ford President and CEO Dr. Joe Lee honor Betty Ford at the White House on March 6, 2024.

Of course, Betty Ford was more than a recovery advocate. She is also known as a champion for women’s rights. And before she went public about her recovery from addiction, she opened up about her recovery from breast cancer. Her acts of courage and candor opened the door for millions to seek screenings and treatment, saving lives to this day.

At the White House, Mrs. Ford’s daughter, Hazelden Betty Ford Trustee Susan Ford Bales, shared moving remarks and captured the scope of her mom’s enduring legacy by quoting historian Richard Norton Smith:

“Where women’s health issues are concerned, American history is divided into two very unequal periods: Before Betty… and After Betty.”

What I love about the Betty Ford stamp — especially in my chosen context of a Recovery Stamp — is that it’s a real person. Not a shadowy figure or the medicine symbol known as a caduceus but a wonderful, successful person who experienced health problems and was able to confront and overcome them with the help of others. Now, THAT is recovery.

Hazelden Betty Ford leaders and supporters at the White House on March 6, 2024.

How to Get Stamps

Betty Ford stamps and stamp-related merchandise are now on sale at post offices and on the U.S. Postal Service’s website, following a First-Day-of-Issue stamp dedication ceremony held by the Postal Service in collaboration with the Betty Ford Center on Friday, April 5, 2024, at Eisenhower Health in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Bales and Dr. Lee spoke once again, as did the Honorable Amber F. McReynolds, vice chair of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors.

Up to 18 million Betty Ford stamps are expected to be purchased this year. At the White House, Dr. Lee contemplated the potential impact:

“While we are still dealing with stigma, Betty Ford made sure addiction was not seen as a second-class disease for second-class citizens. Instead, she sent a powerful message — that everyone on the journey of recovery deserves dignity and quality health care.

That’s a message I hope will be conveyed every time the new stamp is used and every time someone opens an envelope with her image on it. Even more broadly, I hope the stamp sends an optimistic message to our entire nation — that we can overcome difficult challenges both individually and collectively.”

Jeremiah Gardner is director of communications and public affairs for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

Jeremiah Gardner



Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

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