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‘Doc’ brings love, empathy to lead fight against opioid epidemic

Health
Today, journalists seek out Dr. Victor Archambeau for interviews to benefit from his expertise on substance use issues.

At one time in his life, Tidelands Health family medicine physician Dr. Victor Archambeau was the one who needed help for substance use dependency. Today, he helps others through recovery and is a sought-after expert on substance use issues.

Dr. E.V. “Victor” Archambeau probably isn’t what most people picture when they think of a doctor.
The 65-year-old sports a long, salt-and-pepper goatee and wears his hair in a ponytail. A family medicine physician at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Litchfield, he favors the more laid-back style of a polo shirt to the traditional white doctor’s coat (he doesn’t even own one).
“He’s very unassuming,” says Rick Kaylor, senior vice president of system development for Tidelands Health. “His priorities are his patients and his family; it’s not about how much he has or how much he can accumulate or any kind of social standing, it’s all about him helping people.”
At one time, however, it was Dr. Archambeau who needed help. In 1993, he walked through the doors of his first 12-step meeting after recognizing that drugs and alcohol were consuming his life.

Dr. Victor Archambeau celebrates the start of his recovery more than 20 years ago.

Dr. Victor Archambeau commemorates the start of his recovery more than 20 years ago.

Since that day, Dr. Archambeau hasn’t had a drop of alcohol or any type of drug, and his role at those recovery meetings – and in the community – is dramatically different.
Nearly three decades after facing down his own demons, Dr. Archambeau has become a leading – if often unheralded – figure in the region’s fight against the opioid epidemic and substance use disorder.
“I feel like my experience has given me an opportunity to find and fulfill a purpose in life,” Dr. Archambeau says. “I don’t think I would have found the depth of joy I have in life today if I hadn’t experienced the depth of desperation at one time.”

Finding strength

It was during 12-step meetings that Dr. Archambeau’s passion for helping others in recovery blossomed. There was something about the experience that elicited deep personal satisfaction.
Still, he knew there were many people outside the walls of the meeting room who desperately needed help.
“I got a lot of satisfaction helping people at the meetings,” he says, “but I felt like there were a lot of people who weren’t being reached.”
So about a decade ago – long before the opioid crisis began to make national news – Dr. Archambeau decided to actively incorporate substance use recovery into his medical practice.

Dr. Victor Archambeau

The decision came with its share of risk. Dr. Archambeau suspected some patients might shy away from receiving medical care from someone with a history of substance use and who was actively involved in the recovery community.
“My feeling was, ‘It’s my story; It’s my life,’” he says. “At that time, I’d been in recovery maybe 15 years.”
In the intervening decade, only one patient has ever raised the issue, and she was more curious about his background than concerned. Meanwhile, countless people have benefited from Dr. Archambeau’s expertise with substance use.
One patient who struggled with pain after back surgery came to “Doc,” as he’s known in recovery circles, after becoming dependent on opioids to manage his pain. Dr. Archambeau worked with the patient, whose pain prevented him from standing up straight, to find a regimen of non-addictive medications that would ease his pain and halt the cycle of opioid use.
The man’s wife cried the day her husband stood up straight and was able to walk without relying on opioid-based painkillers.

A fateful meeting

The next chapter in Dr. Archambeau’s journey to help others in recovery began in 2012, when a member of Faces and Voices of Recovery South Carolina asked him to meet for five minutes over a cup of coffee.
Two hours later, Dr. Archambeau left the meeting and, for all intents and purposes, the local chapter of FAVOR was born. From its humble roots, the largely volunteer group has grown into an increasingly influential hub of information and support for local residents and their families in the fight against substance use disorder.

“I think the most important thing Doc brings to anyone he meets is empathy and love,” said Nicole Criss, executive director of FAVOR. “He brings understanding and acceptance of wherever they are in their journey of recovery. That is very powerful.”
Criss knows firsthand the type of positive influence Dr. Archambeau can have on people.
In recovery herself, Criss began to develop a rapport with Dr. Archambeau as a patient at his medical practice. He gently but persistently encouraged her to become active in FAVOR, and she eventually agreed to go to Connecticut with a group of volunteers to be trained how to help other people in recovery.
“When we came back here, I just kind of fell into this position,” Criss says. “Since then, I don’t even know if I can put into words the gratitude I have for Doc coming into my life.”
With his support, she has completed her master’s degree and, in June, began working on her doctorate.
“I wouldn’t have the courage to do stuff like that if Doc didn’t come into my life,” she says. “He’s just been an incredible support person. I can’t say enough for what he’s done for my life.”

Warmth and compassion

The growth of FAVOR has broadened Dr. Archambeau’s platform to help others and strengthen recovery resources and coordination within the Tidelands region
For example, FAVOR was one of three partners – including Tidelands Health and Shoreline Behavioral Health Services – to help build an innovative peer recovery program that launched in early 2018 at Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital.
The goal of the effort is to connect individuals interested in recovery with a continuum of support that starts within the hospital and continues into the community. Patients who express an interest in recovery are connected with peer recovery coaches stationed at the hospital who, like Kristian Edwards, are in long-term recovery themselves, allowing them to relate on a personal level.

Dr. Victor Archambeau

Edwards, 35, of Loris, was among the earliest recovery coaches to work inside the hospital. He credits Dr. Archambeau’s support with helping him get the job and, more broadly, with helping him regain his foothold in life.
A product of loving parents and an upper-middle-class upbringing, Edwards nonetheless descended into a life of substance use. He began experimenting with prescription opioids in high school, unaware of the risks he was taking.
“We didn’t know what we were getting into,” he says. “It just escalated.”
After several stints in prison, Edwards finally resolved to make a change – not so much because of the jail time, but because of how his choices were impacting others.

Dr. Victor Archambeau

Listen in

Listen to this Better Health Radio podcast as Tidelands Health family medicine physician Dr. Victor Archambeau discusses substance use dependency.

“I got tired of hurting the people I loved the most,” he says. “I became willing to do what whatever it took to do something different.”
Like so many other people Dr. Archambeau has helped, Edwards met him through 12-step meetings at FAVOR.
Doc became a mentor to Edwards, accepting him as an intern at FAVOR and later helping him secure the job with Shoreline as a peer recovery coach at Tidelands Waccamaw.
Edwards says he wishes the program had been around when he was struggling with opioids. He received care for an overdose in the hospital’s emergency department in 2015.
“The more and more I talked with patients, especially early on in the recovery process, I found that having someone there who understands them and isn’t judging them is the single biggest positive thing we can do,” Edwards says. “To have someone who can empathize with them at the hospital is amazing.”
Today, Edwards helps individuals in recovery from opioids as a peer support specialist at a physician’s office that provides medication-assisted treatment.

Expanding role

Dr. Archambeau’s role advocating for more recovery resources and helping individuals in recovery extends even further than his work at FAVOR or at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Litchfield.
Within Tidelands Health, he is a member of a standing committee that helps educate clinicians about pain management and alternatives to opioid-based medications.

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He is also a sought-after speaker at substance use conferences and serves as chair of the planning committee for the South Carolina Alcohol and Drug Issues Conference for Clinicians.
Still, for all his efforts, Dr. Archambeau knows – perhaps better than anyone – how much work remains in the fight against the opioid epidemic. Even if progress is slow and uneven, he’s committed to playing his part, whether by using his growing prominence in the recovery field to influence public policy or by inspiring people struggling with substance use to realize that recovery and a better life are possible.
“I didn’t go into this to make a big name for myself or a bunch of money,” Dr. Archambeau says. “I just want to help people.”

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