LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska resident Kali Smith heard the gun shot that killed her son. She was sitting on her living room couch when her 18-year-old son Tyler took his own life in the basement.
A pipe and packets of a synthetic drug labeled as incense were found in Tyler's pocket. Smith soon learned that suicidal thoughts are a common side effect of K2, a chemically engineered substances that gave Tyler a high similar to marijuana.
She had no idea that Tyler had been using the drug, and it did not show up on a drug test Tyler took prior to killing himself last September.
"The new generation of K2 doesn't show up on any drug screening," Smith, who lives in Bellevue, said. "Had it showed up a few days earlier when Tyler was drug tested, we would have known what was going on and Tyler would be alive today."
Douglas County Sheriff's Office forensic scientist Christine Gabig said law enforcement has struggled since 2010 to keep up with and ban new forms of synthetic drugs being created. That's why she is working with Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha to craft legislation to ban new generations of K2, and new chemically engineered drugs that mimic the highs users get while using drugs like meth, LSD, ecstasy or psychedelic mushrooms.
McCoy has named the bill Tyler's law.
The Legislature's Judiciary Committee voted 7-0 to move the bill to floor. The Legislature is expected to debate the bill sometime next week.
"These are very dangerous drugs that serve no purpose," McCoy said.
Gabig said people began making such drugs from chemical formulas cited in scientific research papers. Most of the drugs are manufacturing in Asia. The drugs started showing up in the Midwest in 2009 and have been sold at tobacco and head shops disguised as incense, Gabig said.
"Putting these things out there gives people the false impression that they are safe," Gabig said. "A lot of these substances are very dangerous and we don't know what the long-term effects are."
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports at least 41 states have passed laws to ban K2 and at least 43 states have banned bath salts. Before 2010, no state had outlawed synthetic drugs.
Nebraska outlawed some synthetic drugs, including K2 and bath salts, in 2011 and 2012. But, the problem, Gabig said, is that drug manufacturers are slightly changing the chemical formula to skirt the drug laws. The third and fourth generations of K2 are legal and give users a high.
"It's a race between lawmakers and the people making the substances," Gabig said.
McCoy is proposing to close that loophole by broadly outlawing synthetic drugs by class. Under his proposal, the synthetic drugs would still be illegal if small alterations to the chemical components of the drugs are made. Doing this will slow drug makers ability to get around the law so quickly.
"The drug makers have worked very hard to get around Nebraska's laws," McCoy said. "We must be just as motivated to stop them and protect our families."
McCoy's office expects the bill to receive wide support.
Smith, her two sons and husband have started an organization called the Tyler J. Smith Purple Project to raise awareness about these drugs.
They have started going to health classes at schools in Bellevue to teach students about the side effects of synthetic drugs that are being swapped in high school hallways. They tell students about how the drugs made Tyler act withdrawn, anxious and depressed. Paranoia, mood swings, aggression, seizures, vomiting and increased blood pressure are also common side effects of the drugs.
"We are doing everything we can tell students about all the dangers involved with the drugs and the myths about them," Smith said. "We don't want any more lives to be taken by these dangerous drugs."
The bill is LB298.
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