An unconscious woman is brought into a local emergency room after overdosing on fentanyl, a pharmaceutical drug that has become the leading cause of overdose deaths in the United States.
It takes four doses of Narcan, an opioid antagonist used for the complete or partial reversal of opioid overdose, to bring her back.
Even after an induced coma to combat brain swelling and potential long-term damage, she is insistent she doesn’t have a problem.
Doctors, a social worker and psychologist are all unsuccessful in speaking with her. She spouts the cliché that she can quit whenever she wants. That is until a FAVOR Coach enters the room. Within 10 minutes, she agrees to seek treatment.
FAVOR is the Faces of Voices and Recovery program created by Dr. Victor “Doc” Archambeau. It is a multi-faceted program that operates from the point of an overdose patient coming into an E.R. all the way through record expungements and everything in between in order to help addicts reclaim their lives. The coach’s success stems from the ability to relate.
Dr. Archambeau, who has an office at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Litchfield, 12117 Ocean Highway, Pawleys Island, said the difference was the coach’s ability to say, “I was the one lying in that bed dying and this is how my life has changed.
“She could identify with that.”
So can Dr. Archambeau.
“I’m in recovery myself,” he said. “I had my own substance use issues. I grew up in a family where everybody drank. All my friends drank. That was an easy thing for me to fall into.”
It started at 8 years old when he began taking beers out of the refrigerator. Despite his struggles, he managed to become a firefighter and an EMT. He graduated from medical school in 1987 and became a successful doctor with his own practice. He described himself as “functional.” He would overindulge on the weekends and maintain control of his life otherwise.
It has been 26 years since Dr. Archambeau admitted to having a drinking problem and entering a 12-step program. Now, Dr. Archambeau is on a mission to spread hope.
Appointment with beauty queen
Approximately 10 years ago, Dr. Archambeau developed a desire to expand his professional practice into addiction medicine. As fate would have it, he was invited to a conference in Columbia focused on alcohol and drug issues for the first time.
“I had a spiritual nudge,” he said.
A woman spoke at the conference who had her own addiction battles via her father who abused drugs and alcohol. She told stories of joining the swim team because it allowed her to get a hot shower before school. She came one day to find a moving van in their yard because they had lost their home due to her father’s addiction.
“She figured, if you can’t beat them, join them,” Archambeau said.
In that despair, she went to an area of her hometown where could score some drugs. For a while, she stood on the corner and watched the hustles. She was figuring out how to go about buying drugs when she heard a voice.
“Don’t do it,” the voice said. She turned to see an emaciated, skeleton of a man.
“What did you say?” she asked.
“It’s too late for me but you still have a chance,” he said. “Don’t do it.”
She called her mother and started attending family support meetings. She later went on to become Miss South Carolina and competed in the Miss USA Pageant.
After her presentation at the conference. Dr. Archambeau found her and thanked her for sharing the relatable story.
Two weeks later Dr. Archambeau was attending a recovery sponsor retreat. A man stood up to share his story. He had been clean for six months and had just come back from Las Vegas where he supported his daughter who was competing in the Miss USA Pageant.
Dr. Archambeau approached the man and confirmed he was the father of the same Miss South Carolina he had met two weeks earlier.
“Are you ‘Doc’?” the man asked. “I don’t know what you said to her, but we haven’t spoke in quite some time.”
Dr. Archambeau doesn’t recall the words that encouraged her to speak to her father after years of silence. But that is of little concern.
“It doesn’t matter what I said. Sometimes some power greater than myself will speak through us to say whatever someone else needs to hear,” he says.
That experience is what pushed him to help people with substance use disorders. He joined the American Society of Addiction Medicine and began this leg of his journey which is now transforming the lives of Georgetown area residents through FAVOR and other related programs intertwined with the Tidelands Health system.
The power of peers
FAVOR utilizes “coaches” who are in recovery themselves to help others who are struggling with substance use disorders. They are trained to identify those who are struggling and guide them through recovery. There is no denying the results.
According to Dr. Archambeau, they have a 61 percent “continued engagement rate.” That is compared to a 5 to 10% engagement rate with a typical 12-step program. They also have an Emergency Room Peer program that performs at a rate of over 50% engagement.
Their success has a lot to do with the inherent empathy of the coaches.
For example, a FAVOR coach was able to intercept a woman in an ER who was only there because of her husband’s infection. She had gone out to their car and returned shortly thereafter. He noticed upon her return that she appeared to have used heroin. When the husband left for an x-ray they went outside to talk where the woman began crying and began a recovery program.
The coach was able to do this because Tidelands Health employs a protocol that screens every person that comes into an ER with an interview and because of their personal substance abuse experience.
The power of FAVOR is the ability to empathize, Dr. Archambeau says. They know we can relate.
“At first it was kind of scary to admit I had a problem,” he said. “It was so much a part of me I wasn’t sure what life would be like otherwise.”
However, after attending a 12-step meeting he knew those people could understand the feeling of disappointment in not having died in your sleep every morning.
“I could identify because that’s how I felt,” he said. It is something to which many people who struggle with substance use disorders can also relate. That’s what opens the door for many.
As a result, Dr. Archambeau has been able to work with Tidelands Health to create a more successful recovery system that includes safe houses, treatment centers, Tideland Peer Support programs, recovery coaches and more. They even work with those who have gone far enough in their recovery to help get records expunged so people can recover socially as well.
“The worst problem to overcome when facing a substance use problem is feeling helpless and hopeless,” Dr. Archambeau said.
If you or someone you know is struggling from a substance use disorder, you can contact the FAVOR helpline at 843-668-2948. In Georgetown and Horry Counties, you can get help from someone who understands.