Mobile phone app to help youngsters beat drugs

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2011, 12:00am

A mobile phone application is being developed in which social workers will pose as virtual characters to encourage youngsters to open up and talk about drugs.

The innovative Diamond project, funded with HK$2 million from the government's Beat Drugs Fund, is being developed by the Wireless Technology Industry Association and the Productivity Council. The Hong Kong Lutheran Social Service and Youth Outreach are also backing the programme.

Due to be up and running by the middle of this year, organisers hope the programme will reach 50,000 young people and lead 100 of them to receive counselling in two years.

The first stage of the application will offer games to users and introduce them to virtual characters who are, in fact, social workers and volunteers. After users develop a rapport with the characters, they will be able to stay in touch via text messaging.

Lawrence Li Chi-shing, director of Hong Kong Wireless Development Centre, said organisers hoped users would share secrets with the characters, helping social workers identify drug addicts and those at risk.

'They can stay anonymous in the games and texts and this will encourage them to open up,' said Li.

Carol Ng Suet-Kam, a social worker at Hong Kong Lutheran Social Service, said organisers hoped users of the application would eventually be invited to real-life events, so social workers could follow up any concerns in more depth.

The text service would only be open at night, Li said. Two social workers and between two and four volunteers, former drug addicts, would offer the service. Li said the service would be expanded if the application proved popular.

The fund is also supporting a project which develops anti-drugs games on Facebook. Since its launch in January, it has recorded more then 30,000 clicks.