Deadly fad leaving kids in the gutter outside school
CHILDREN are passing out in gutters outside schools due to chroming as Queensland hospitals have seen a 32 per cent explosion in patients being treated for the deadly fad.
The alarming trend involves children - usually in their teens but sometimes younger - inhaling a volatile substance such as deodorant.
It has caused five deaths in Queensland in recent years and the toxins inhaled have the ability to dissolve brain tissue, leading to lasting brain damage.
Latest statistics reveal that in 2018-19, 98 patients were admitted to Queensland's public and private hospitals for mental and behavioural disorders related to chroming - up from 81 in 2017-18, and 74 in 2016-17.
Children aged between 10 and 19 made up almost half the admissions in 2018-19 - 45 were admitted, compared to 29 in 2016-17.
There were 141 "episodes of admitted patient care" in 2018-19 - which includes people admitted multiple times - a 35 per cent increase from 2016-17.
But the habit is not illegal and is hard to prevent due to the ease of access of deodorant cans, police say, which has seen experts come forward in the hope of putting an end to the tragedy.
Brisbane teacher Majella Ritchie has been working with the Queensland Police Service to educate at-risk teenagers about the dangers.
She has worked at schools for disengaged youth on both Brisbane's southside and northside and witnessed the effects of chroming.
"In the Logan area chroming is unbelievable," she told The Courier-Mail.
"It would be quite normal for me to come to work and have kids laying in the gutter with multiple Rexona cans around them that they have completely inhaled over a short period of time.
"From that you just saw an increase in juvenile offending rates, kids would come out of juvie and not function without it - for some kids it was the only way they knew how to function."
The increase in chroming among teenagers has led to Health Minister Steven Miles pushing for a roundtable discussion with retailers and other stakeholders to address the problem.
Rexona has also vowed to change its label and ingredients following a petition from Ms Ritchie in recent months.
Ms Ritchie said part of the problem lies with youth gangs on Brisbane's southside and northside which have promoted the deadly habit on social media.
"(The gangs) are very much involved in drug use, especially if it's kids who don't have access to money, it's very quick and easy to steal these cans," she said. "There are photos on Instagram of kids chroming, so it's very much being promoted."
Queensland Health executive director of mental health, alcohol and other drugs Dr John Allan acknowledged that ringleaders were pushing the substance on to groups of children.
He said Logan, Townsville and Cairns had all seen flare-ups of the issue in recent years. "There will sometimes be a ringleader of a group and they can introduce the kids to that," Dr Allan said. "The kids can be quite young - early teenagers and sometimes before that. That seems to be the kind of peak age for it."
A recent national survey of alcohol and drug abuse among schoolchildren found that 18 per cent had tried using inhalants, Dr Allan said.
"About 18 per cent of school students say that they've tried using some sort of inhalant and a very small percentage of those go on and try it more regularly," he said.
There have also been success stories in Queensland, however, Dr Allan said.
In Cairns particularly, a youth program has been able to successfully identify kids affected by the practice and consult them. "Cairns was a hot spot and they've had a lot of good results in trying to change that," Dr Allan said.
Queensland Police Service also runs its own program in southeast Queensland called Project CASM (Community Against Substance Abuse).
The project was honoured last month by the service's hierarchy. The goal of the project is to divert children away from chroming and reduce the prevalence of criminal offences associated with it.
Detective Sergeant Peter Lunney said this project was a joint effort. "Ultimately, the work of those involved with the project has resulted in a reduction of the number of … related incidents in Brisbane by engaging with and educating retailers, reaching out with at-risk youth and upskilling police and their capabilities," he said.