Meth series: Boulder’s Elkhorn Treatment Center: ‘Silver bullet’ for women fighting addiction

December 11, 2016 - Montana Standard

BOULDER — Amanda Brum first shot herself up with methamphetamine when she was 12.

The potent drug was her payment for a babysitting job.

“I loved it. I’m not going to lie to you,” the 33-year-old Billings woman said in July. “It was a great feeling. It took away all my pain, all my anxiety. It was what I wanted. It was what I didn’t have in my home life.”

The slender woman with gray-blue eyes and a spray of freckles across her cheeks was one of several residents at Elkhorn Treatment Center in Boulder who agreed to tell their stories of addiction — journeys filled with abuse, sex exchanged for drugs, and children left behind.

The 47-bed center located about 35 miles north of Butte is a residential treatment-based correctional facility for women under the auspices of the Montana Department of Corrections, with a small number of beds under contract to the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Elkhorn is one of two nine-month programs created by the DOC to treat drug offenders, focusing on mental health and chemical dependency, including meth addiction. An 82-bed facility — Nexus — in Lewistown provides treatment to male offenders. Both programs regularly have months-long waiting lists.

The DOC supervises about 16,451 offenders as of Nov. 30, with 83 percent managed outside the state’s two prisons. Drug possession continues to be the top-ranked offense for both male and female offenders, according to the DOC’s 2015 Biennial Report.

A large percentage of crimes perpetrated on communities can be linked to substance abuse, according to law enforcement officials. Spikes in offenses such as property crimes are inexorably tied to the prevalence of meth use in cities, small towns, and rural outposts across Montana.


Judy Kolar, one of three licensed addiction counselors at Elkhorn, said the damage inflicted by methamphetamine use affects the “whole person.” The length of the program is significant and more effective because it provides both mental health and addiction treatment — an approach the Elkhorn team excels at.

“It’s not the kind of drug you try once. … They certainly make a choice to start, but they don’t have any idea what they’re getting themselves into,” said Kolar. “It takes a long time for their brains to clear up enough to function adequately, and it takes a long time to work through a lot of the problems they’ve created.”

Administrator Dan Krause said many of the residents have “significant trauma histories,” including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse extending as far back as childhood. Various therapeutic groups target issue areas — such as a victim impact group — and allow the women to share their experiences.

“It’s very hard-hitting for them,” he said, adding that residents will insist they’re victims of “the system” and later realize they, too, can be the bully or the one who doles out abuse.

Each resident is required to write a life story within the first 90 days after arriving at Elkhorn. Kolar said the stories resonate with trauma: broken homes, a lack of supervision, and parents caught up in drug use, something she didn’t see early in her career more than 20 years ago.

“A lot of parents are using drugs with their kids. Some are introducing kids to drugs, and they don’t always start with methamphetamine. Most of the time they don’t — usually it’s alcohol, marijuana. When they get into meth, it seems like that becomes the primary drug of choice,” she said.

Royale Ereaux of Billings first tried meth at 14. Shortly after, she starting shooting it. The high was “amazing.” She felt light, like she could do anything.

“I felt powerful. I felt like I didn’t have to worry about anything or anyone, and it just made me feel better than I was feeling,” the 32-year-old Sioux woman said in June.

Ereaux blamed her “home life” for a string of convictions for drug possession and escape in Yellowstone and Missoula counties dating to 2004. She served seven years in the Montana Women’s Prison in Billings.

In an unvarnished admission among fellow residents, Ereaux said, “My mom was an addict; she cooked meth, and I followed in her footsteps. Everything that she did (to me) I did to my son, and I kept doing it.”

Ereaux described herself as ruthless when she was using drugs, and said she slept with men to feed her habit. It was heroin use that brought her to Elkhorn and where nine months — not 30 days — of treatment helped her to “dig deep” and recognize why she couldn’t shake free of addiction.

“As the DOC likes to say, Elkhorn is their silver bullet, so hopefully it really helps me this time,” she said.

Ereaux has since graduated from the facility and was discharged to the Missoula Prerelease Center.

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