By Zara Nicholson

A Cape Town lecturer has started a drug counselling service using the controversial cellphone chat service Mxit.

Marlon Parker, 30, of Silvertown, who works with youngsters involved in drugs and gangs, has been using Mxit to reach addicts.

Parker, an IT lecturer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, is doing his PhD thesis on the use of technology to facilitate community change. Using Mxit two years ago he found cellphones were the most commonly used piece of technology in all communities. Mxit now boasts around 8,6-million users around the country.

As a trial, Parker and his team of six counsellors at the Impact Centre in Bridgetown approached a school about having a counselling service on Mxit. The counsellors chat on Mxit to addicts via the Impact Centre's computers, and have chat sessions between 3pm and 5pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Parker said they were hoping to run the service for as many hours in the day as possible once they had their own infrastructure. At any given time during the two-hour session they have about 50 contacts online.

After chatting online, Parker and his team invite addicts to the centre for one-on-one counselling sessions. Addicts in other areas are referred to more local counselling services.

The service and counselling is offered as far as Delft and Atlantis.

Brent Williams, a former Bridgetown drug addict and dealer, was desperate when he approached the Impact Centre for help. Williams now works as a full-time counsellor at the centre.

"I was involved in gangs and drugs for years. My main drug was tik (methamphetamine) but I tried heroin and drank a lot.

"I was one of the first tik dealers in Bridgetown. I started drinking when I was 13 and by 21 I was taking tik, Ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and that's when things went wrong. I used to hang out with the Americans gangsters but never became part of them because I knew they wanted to have control of me," he said.

Williams said his mother got him to go to the Impact Centre for help last year. Now he helps people as young as 10 and others in their 50s.

Apart from helping addicts with technology, Parker is also teaching his team members and clients how to use technology.

Parker and his team have a Facebook group called Impact where they add friends and engage with people about what they do and monitor addicts' lives closely.

On Facebook they have access to status updates on someone's profile. Parker said they often found disturbing status updates with people stating they were suicidal.