A dearth of heroin on Australia's streets is driving an increasing number of teenagers to sniff paint, in what authorities describe as a worrying new trend. Youth workers said paint and solvent sniffing, nicknamed chroming, was on the rise as heroin supplies dried up as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan and a poor poppy season in Southeast Asia. Peter Wern, a director of the Youth Substance Abuse Service, said: 'Nationally we have seen an increase in the last 12 months of young people either chroming for the first time or taking it up after a long period. 'One of the factors is the lack of availability of heroin. Another factor is that there is an overall trend for young people to experiment with drugs.' Chroming involves directly inhaling solvents or glue, or pouring paint into a plastic bag and breathing the fumes. It can cause brain damage, seizures and death. 'It's like instantly becoming drunk. In a matter of seconds you become totally intoxicated,' Mr Wern said. A report by the Government of Victoria revealed that chroming was the most common form of drug abuse among children and teenagers in the state, with 24 per cent of students trying it at least once. Jenny Cummings, a director of welfare agency Berry Street Victoria, said the practice was 'pretty endemic'. The agency found itself at the centre of a political row yesterday when it was revealed it allowed children as young as 12 to get high on paint and glue fumes under adult supervision. Ms Cummings said the alternative was to banish children to the streets, where they would be in far greater danger. 'We made a decision some time ago that what we needed to do was keep the young people safe in order to address the underlying problems they have which often drive them to use these substances to blot out pain,' she said. She said the agency recommended hospitalisation, detoxification programmes or placement in secure welfare if children continually abused substances. 'It is not that we just sit there and let them sniff and sniff and sniff.' The Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks, pledged to stop the government-funded agency from allowing children to sniff solvents on its premises, calling the practice inappropriate. 'The Government was unaware the minister was unaware of this,' he said. 'We will certainly issue guidelines to prevent this happening.' In the past decade in Victoria alone, 44 people, most of them under 18, have died from sniffing solvents, according to the report by the state's all-party Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee.