Skip to main content

Colorado mom raises awareness for overdose deaths with a display of purple flags

Email share
August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. For this Colorado mother, the day has become deeply personal over the last year.
Each flag symbolizes a Coloradan who lost their life due to substance use.
Credit: Gregg & Cath Photographers

If you are struggling with substance use or have an immediate crisis Colorado Crisis Services is available 24/7 to help. Call 1-844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255.

GARFIELD COUNTY, Colo. — Tuesday, August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. The yearly observance began 20 years ago in Melbourne, Australia. Since then, it has become deeply personal for one Colorado mom.

Cath Adams lost her daughter Emily to an accidental fentanyl overdose on April 28, 2020. Emily was in her early 20s.

“When you lose a child, you can’t even explain it in words,” Adams explained.

Four months after Emily passed away, Adams began to plant purple flags in the group throughout Garfield, Pitkin, and Eagle Counties. Each purple flag represents an overdose death that occurred in the tri-county area since 2017. The flag-planting is the work of Adams’ company Aperture of Hope, which aims to provide resources for people and families battling with substance abuse.

“Emily suffered the disease of addiction,” Adams said. “In honor of her and in honor of everyone in our valley, we wanted to create this visual display.”

Colorado Voices

Aperture of Hope: Overdose Awareness Day

Last year, Adams planted 52 flags, indicating that 52 people in the tri-counties died from an overdose between 2017 and 2019.

“When you place a flag in, you need to put a hole into the ground, right? So we put a hole into the ground, and that’s how your heart feels when you lose a child: you feel like there is a hole there. There is a hole in your life,” Adams explained. “But then when you plant this flag in, you fill that hole. And you fill that hole with hope and love and meaning and purpose. And that is what keeps us going.”

Adams said that between Aspen and Glenwood Springs, there are 10 locations where her group plants the purple flags. Each time, they also plant an additional “angel flag” — a white flag adorned with a quote from Emily: “I will always try to be a light to someone else’s life, no matter the circumstances.”

This year, Adams said they are planting 72 flags, an updated total that includes the 2020 overdose numbers.

That rise has been both a statewide and national trend. Data from CDPHE show a record-high 1,477 Coloradans died from an overdose in 2020.

According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation published earlier this month, over 93,000 Americans died from an overdose in 2020, also a record high and an increase of about 21,000 from the previous year.

“More than one in 10 adults have reported starting or increasing the use of alcohol or drugs to cope with the pandemic. Additionally, deaths due to drug overdose spiked during the pandemic, primarily driven by opioids,” the report noted.

On August 31, Colorado Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera and other state officials are meeting on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol to mark International Overdose Day.

“The event will honor Coloradans who died by overdose, raise awareness of proven treatments and interventions and encourage those living with substance use disorder to seek life-saving care,” according to a release from Primavera’s office.

Data from CDPHE

Explore more overdose data from CDPHE here.

Brian Willie is the Content Production Manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

Kyle Cooke is the Digital Media Manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

Spotlight Newsletter

Community stories from across Colorado and updates on your favorite PBS programs, in your inbox every Tuesday.

Sign up here!