UCT partners with govt on substance abuse detection tool

Professor Goodman Sibeko, head: division of addiction psychiatry at UCT.
Professor Goodman Sibeko, head: division of addiction psychiatry at UCT.

The University of Cape Town (UCT), in partnership with the Department of Social Development (DSD), this week unveiled the alcohol, smoking and substance involvement screening test (ASSIST).

The web app risk assessment tool helps students to self-screen for substance abuse.

ASSIST is part of UCT and the DSD’s Integrated Early Intervention and Prevention Programme, which aims to curb social crime, gender-based violence (GBV) and substance abuse among the youth.

The web-based tool was prompted by the need to reduce, control and address alcohol and substance abuse, which negatively affects the lives of young people in tertiary institutions, says UCT.

It also aims to provide accessible intervention strategies to address harmful substance use.

Speaking at the launch event, UCT interim vice-chancellor professor Daya Reddy explained ASSIST is a risk assessment tool that provides a self-screening opportunity, which helps with assessing whether a person is on a low, moderate, or high-risk level of substance consumption.

“As researchers, we have responsibilities that go beyond the work we take on. That is to communicate results of our research, make the results accessible and develop means by which the knowledge we generate can improve the quality of life for the people and communities around us.”

Targeted at students from higher education institutions across SA, ASSIST is a new version of the World Health Organisation tool. UCT’s professor Goodman Sibeko worked with the International Technology Transfer Centre to develop the local version of the web-based app.

“ASSIST asks about substance use of the past three months and evaluates lifetime risk. What makes it useful for us is that it’s one tool that covers a comprehensive list that includes tobacco and alcohol,” said Sibeko.

The app can be used by a professional as part of an interview with a patient, or can be self-administered electronically by students on their laptops, smartphones or tablets, he stated.

“The benefit of the tool is the ability to self-administer and create self-efficacy. People must take responsibility for their own well-being.”

According to Sibeko, ASSIST does not capture any personal information during the screening test. At the end of the test, the user will enter their e-mail address to receive their results via e-mail and will receive a code they can use to reach further help from medical practitioners registered on ASSIST.

“The next step for ASSIST is integration with the government information system and linkage to the geolocated resource directory, which is under development. What this means is regardless of where someone is, they’ll be able to see what substance use resources are near them, what services they provide and how to contact them.”

DSD minister Lindiwe Zulu emphasised the importance of the tool, and urged students to stay away from drugs and alcohol. “We are building safer student communities against crime, GBV and substance abuse, and we are using this tool.” 

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