Sam Archambault knows what drug addiction is like. He lived through a hellish three years but survived it. And now he tells his story to area youth —to make a positive difference in Parsippany.
The 21-year-old Parsippany High School alum shares a dark tale of his experience with drug abuse that includes an overdose, criminal activity and more, but his message is positive, and he has no problem with sharing what he's endured to teach the world that there is light and life after addiction.
Archambault and his mother Debbie were among the attendees at the Drug Leadership Summit held at the Knoll East Country Club last December, where elected officials, clergypersons and concerned citizen leaders gathered to hear the reality of drug abuse in the township. It was reported at the event that there were four overdoses suffered by young residents in the last six months of 2012.
'I've always known I was an addict'
Those kids, people with whom he socialized and played hockey, are why Archambault said he wants people to know what he experienced.
"The trouble is real," he said. "This is no joke."
His life now, he said, is great. He is working for a moving and hauling business and said he loves being gainfully employed and productive.
"I'm really good at it," said Archambault, who said he happily works long hours at the job. "It makes me feel good about myself and keeps me out of trouble."
Which he said is a good thing, because Sam Archambault has seen a lot of trouble.
"I've always known I was an addict," he said, remembering his childhood. "I was addicted to Pokemon cards, baseball cards, video games. Everything that I liked, I wanted more and more. I couldn't get enough."
He discovered marijuana as a middle schooler and "started smoking weed every day" once he got into high school, and progressed to harder stuff—pills, heroin—fairly quickly, he said, adding that he obtained the substances "from people around."
"They're accessible," he said.
Archambault realized he was on a dangerous path when he was 19 years old.
"And I didn't want to change it," he recalled.
The good thing in his life at the time was football.
"It was my way into college," he added.
But his way into college became part of the problem when he broke his leg while playing and found himself deeply depressed. Pain medication he was given offered a kind of escape for him.
"I liked the way the pills made me feel," Archambault said. "They took the depression away."
But senior year was particularly rough. He attended school while under the influence. And injuries mounted. He had to have four surgeries, and then dislocated a finger and needed a fifth. The more pain he endured, the more pills the self-described "big guy" required.
Debbie Archambault said it was a horrible time for the family.
"They threw so many pills at him," she said.
"And when I couldn't get 'em, I would rob somebody so I could," he said. "I did some really terrible things."
His mother said that while she initially missed the signs of her boy's addiction, eventually, she realized how bad the situation was becoming. And then Sam even brought crime into the family home.
"He got into stealing, from us," she said, her face turning to a frown as she recalled the past. "Things were missing in the house. He would take the credit card and put it somewhere else. I thought I was crazy."
There were arrests too, and a time in jail for forgery, she said.
According to Debbie Archambault, she and her husband were like the proverbial "good cop and bad cop," with her playing the latter role. She took the tough-love approach, kicking her son out of the house "off and on" when she could not endure his destructive behavior any longer. (He went to his grandmother's home, which was next door.) Her husband's passivity—she called it "enabling"—and her anger over it collided, creating some conflict in their marriage.
She said that once she was aware of the problem, she became relentless and "wouldn't give [Sam] a break." She recalled an incident where the teen ended up in Morris County Jail for the serious crime of forgery. Debbie Archambault was in Colorado with her other two sons and received a call with the news from her husband, who had stayed at home to keep an eye on their addict son.
"I told him not to bail Sam out, but he couldn't take it, and so he did bail him out," she said. "It was such a tough time for Sam; he didn't graduate from high school [due to lost time due to his health issues], his life was in a shambles. He wasn't himself. He wasn't the son I knew. He was mean... His brothers hated him. And my husband Mark works long hours. He didn't want to be the guy who came home and yelled, so he was in denial."
Efforts to get clean
Archambault, who said he now feels ashamed of his behavior and its effect on his now-healed family, said that at the time he did not care about anything but himself and scoring more drugs.
The addiction snowballed until, at the age of 18, he finally asked his mother for help and "on Aug. 5, 2010," he was placed into a rehabilitation center in San Diego, Calif.
It didn't take. The young man then went into a cycle of rehab, a return home, and back to drugs, crime and trouble.
Rehab number two was closer to home, in Hamilton. It too didn't work, so he was sent to another facility in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. But once out, he fell back into old, bad habits as his addiction again took hold.
And then, on Nov. 22, 2011, Archambault overdosed on heroin.
"He wasn't living in our house, and my mother-in-law was only taking him in for showers. Even she didn't trust him at that point," she said. "It was right before Thanksgiving. It's surreal to think about it today."
But that day, when he already was scheduled to enter a detox program, had been "crazy," in Archambault's recollection. He said he was "really, really high" and had in his possession "20-something" bags of heroin. He figured it was time for the substance-abuse equivalent of a last fling.
"I did eight bags and hid the rest and a [syringe] under the bathroom sink," he said. "Last thing I remember, I was stepping into the bathtub to take a shower, and next thing, it hit me and I was out."
His father knocked on the bathroom door to tell his son that it was time to go to detox. Hearing no sounds, he broke through the door and found an unconscious Sam.
"When I came in," Debbie Archambault recalls, "he was purple and his eyes were rolled back. I yelled, 'Do something, do something, he's dying! It was just so awful."
After family members attempted unsuccessfully to revive him, Sam was taken by ambulance to Morristown Medical Center because St. Clare's Hospital, though closer, did not have a trauma center. If he could not be revived, he would have had to go onto a respirator.
Thankfully, paramedics were able to bring him back to consciousness, and two days later, it was off to the detox center at St. Clare's. At the time, Debbie Archambault said she had decided that rehab doesn't work and that she would take care of her son by herself. For months she did just that, she said, taking him to intensive outpatient sessions at the hospital and waiting in the parking lot while he was treated. After a while, he appeared to be doing well again.
"I thought it was over," she said. "After the overdose where he nearly died, it had to be over. After going through something like that, why would someone [take drugs again]?"
But the disease of addiction was not done with Archambault yet.
After five months clean, in mid-2012, he was back off the wagon. At one point, he "started jonesing so bad," and remembered that he had bags of heroin hidden under the bathroom sink in his family's home. When he searched for it, he realized that those who had gone through the house after the overdose to clear out anything dangerous had found the syringe, but the drugs were there.
"I was right back where I left off, even worse," he said.
About three weeks later, after being awake five days in a row, Archambault knew that he needed to go back into rehabilitation.
'It's not worth it'
"The last [time in rehab], which I hope sticks, was in Bowling Green, Pa.," he said, noting that he always will consider himself in recovery. "It was really good there. They talked with my parents and everything, and it gave me a sense of new hope."
After the Pennsylvania center, he moved to the New Hope Foundation in Marlboro, which offers halfway houses.
"Nobody's there in the house with you," he said, noting that newly recovering addicts are particularly vulnerable to relapse. He turned out to be no exception.
"Some people were stealing, and seeing them, I started to do it too," he recalled.
He recounted a story of accompanying some of his halfway house colleagues to Walmart in Marlboro.
"Addicts love to sabotage themselves," Debbie Archambault explained. "This wasn't even about drugs, it was about doing something dangerous. We had just given him a set of headphones and he went and stole another one. He didn't need them. He even had money; it was for the thrill.
"It doesn't make sense, but with an addict, not much does."
The young man ended up getting caught and placed in jail for two weeks.
"It was good that he was in there," said Debbie Archambault. "It got him [calmed] down."
Her son agreed.
"Going to jail was very good for me," he said. "Where I was, there was chaos and madness. Out here, on the other side of this, life is so much better, so much better."
Archambault said he's been clean for eight months and out of rehab for seven. He is thriving in his job, living in a group home with stringent rules, making plans to get his own place eventually and actively avoiding his old friends—and trouble. He spends the rare free time he allows himself speaking to young people about the dangers of drug abuse at the Parsippany Police Athletic League.
"I do it because no one needs to walk the road I did," he said. "I share my message about what I went through. I know what's going on in the schools, where to find it, what they're doing.
"And I tell them it's not worth it."