LINCOLN, Neb. -- Every year Nebraska lawmakers pass bills banning chemicals in synthetic drugs like K2, but manufacturers are still finding ways to go around the rules. As a result, the drug remains deadly and present in our communities.
Kali Smith of Bellevue said she lost her 18-year-old son to K2 in 2012. Since then, she's made it her mission to educate people about K2's dangerous effects and is even working with lawmakers to heighten the punishment when it comes to the synthetic drug.
"[Tyler] was my best friend, he was an all-American guy," Smith said. "Beautiful smile, he had the personality and smile that would just draw you to him. He was funny."
When Kali Smith thinks about her son she remembers the qualities that made him special, but she isn't quick to forget the drug she said made him take his own life in September 2012.
"I was crying and I was begging Tyler, I grabbed him by the arm and I was shaking him and I was just begging him, 'Tyler talk to me, talk to me Tyler,' and he could not speak and so my husband and I ran upstairs to get our keys, we we're going to take Tyler to the emergency, when Tyler took his own life," Smith said.
Tyler shot himself, and police later found two packets of cherry flavored incense and a pipe among his belongings. Smith and her husband were left with many unanswered questions.
"What is this?" Smith asked authorities. "When they told me what it was I said 'I need to know what it is and so does everybody else, because if it could happen to my home and my child, it could happen to anybody.'"
A day after Tyler's passing, Smith decided to start the T.J.S. Purple Project in honor of her son. She travels across the state to spread awareness of K2 and its effects. Her efforts don't stop there, though, as she also works closely with lawmakers to put a stop to the deadly drug.
In 2013, the Nebraska Legislature passed LB 298 in honor of Tyler, which outlawed chemicals used to make K2. While Tyler's law and others are in place, manufacturers still find a way to curtail those rules, allowing the products to be sold in stores.
"It's a significant problem," Attorney General Jon Bruning said. "I mean in my 12 years as Attorney General, we've had meth amphetamine certainly, we've had cocaine, we've had a number of issues with drugs, but K2 is particularly insidious because kids think it's safe. They think it's marijuana that they're just going to be a very mellow high when they use it. The problem is that's not the case."
Smith is now calling on lawmakers to propose new bills in 2015, including one that would raise the punishment for possession to a felony rather than a misdemeanor. Another aims to raise the age when a person can legally buy paraphernalia, like a pipe, from 18 to 21.
"People need to understand the danger of it. Part of this is an education campaign," Bruning said. "We can't do everything through law enforcement by making it illegal and putting people in jail, there needs to be an education component to this as well where young people and parents understand the dangers of K2."
And that's exactly what Kali Smith is determined to do.
"I feel like Tyler is the one driving this force to just make our community a better place for our kids to grow up in," Smith said.
Bruning said the new bills regarding K2 should be presented in January, as the Legislature returns next Wednesday. He also said the new Attorney General elect, Doug Peterson, is interested in public safety and will also want to work on issues like K2.