Patti Jo Peterson Managing editor

January 27, 2015 3:39 pm

In 2012, Tyler Smith had about everything the average young man could want or need at his age.
The 18-year-old was popular, had dated the same girl for three years and was just months away from graduating from Bellevue West. He had a job and owned a car.

“He was well-liked because of his ability to not judge anyone, and was a brother to many,” his mother Kali Smith said. “He was funny and very talented. He was very compassionate about others, animals and just a really nice guy.”

He didn’t do drugs and respected authority figures.

When he and a few friends walked to a gas station just a block from high school, Tyler didn’t realize that the cherry-flavored “tobacco” they bought would lead to his death less than one week later.
Unknowingly, Tyler and his friends smoked cherry-flavored incense, one of many ingredients in synthetic marijuana.

Just shortly after ingesting it, Tyler became extremely ill. “He came home early and I took him to the doctor. They could not find anything and so they figured it must be the flu,” Kali said.

Four days later, her son had six cysts in his brain and brain damage. “I took him back to the doctor on Friday and there still was nothing they could see, so they said, ‘Bring him back on Monday if he’s not doing better over the weekend.’”

Saturday came and Tyler’s condition grew worse. He was unable to talk. When Kali and her husband ran upstairs to get their car keys to take him to the emergency room, Tyler shot himself in what was diagnosed as a “prolonged psychosis,” an effect of ingesting synthetic marijuana even once.
His two other friends went to the hospital with organ failure and seizures.

“Nothing drew him to doing drugs,” Kali said. “Tyler never wanted to break the law and wouldn’t. He was very cautious but his friends told him it was flavored tobacco and he was 18 so he believed it was nothing that was going to hurt him. They paid a tax on it and from what they all said no one really knew it was synthetic marijuana.”

The day after his death, Kali founded the Tyler J. Smith Purple Project Foundation — named so after her son’s favorite color — through which she works tirelessly to get the word out about these substances and lobby against them.

“I am on a crusade to avenge my son and make sure everyone knows he was a great person, my best friend and a great son who would never do drugs. He was never depressed and he especially would never take his own life. He suffered terribly for an entire week and I hope to permanently get them outlawed for good.”

Due to her efforts in 2012, Nebraska lawmakers adopted Tyler’s Law LB 298, “banning the manufacturing and distribution of synthetic canninbinoids and syncans.”

“Synthetic marijuana is literally made by those overseas, mainly in China, Denmark and other parts of Europe and the Middle East,” Kali said. “They take vegetation that would appear to be potpourri in similarity, soak it in acetone, spray thousands of different chemicals on it – not evenly of course – and dry and package it in shiny, colorful packages. It is marketed to our young people as an herbal essence, tobacco or legal high.”

Sold as Scooby snacks, incense, potpourri, spice, purple haze and a myriad of other names, it is not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration or Federal Trade Commission.

“Each package contains different chemicals and different amounts of each chemical. There are no listed ingredients or warnings,” Kali said.

People may legally purchase only in states that have not banned the substances being used in it. “The side effects are that of a long-term meth user,” Kali said.

In 2013, Kali successfully lobbied to update Tyler’s law to include the latest chemicals used. “Currently, we are seeing Generation 8 of K-2, as well as liquidized forms of these chemicals and edibles. So I am now in the process of working closely with Attorney General Doug Peterson and Sen. Matt Williams to pass new and current legislation (LB 326), an inclusive bill that would classify these chemicals as Class 1 narcotics, bringing with them a felony charge.”

She is also working with Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli. To spread her message, Kali conducts presentations in schools, to civic groups, the Omaha mayor’s School Community Intervention and Prevention (SCIP) Program, Bellevue Drug Commission, behavioral health groups, diversion staff, probation staff, Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee, small groups, large parent forums, National Leadership Conferences, and recently, Safe Kids Sarpy and Cass counties.

“I have been to 12 states with my presentation spreading awareness, prevention and hope to more than 10,000 people since 2012. Everyone is our primary target audience as we have learned education is the best defense against drugs. We aim to prevent another life from being lost as well as lessen the abuse and use of synthetic drugs. The more educated each person is the better chance we have of saving lives.”

This week, Kali will meet with the attorney general and Matt Williams to work on passing new legislation regarding synthetic marijuana. She also made a presentation do the DHHS advisory committee.

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