Kevin Bridges has spoken about losing schoolfriends to drugs and the “guilt” he feels about how different his life has been.
The stand-up comedian was speaking ahead of the launch of his first novel, ‘The Black Dog’, which tells the story of a man with dreams of becoming a writer but who falls out with drug-dealing gangsters.
It also includes the character of an actor whose sister’s battle with drug addiction brings him back to a town that he thought he had escaped.
The book includes a credit to Bridges’ lifelong friend Claire Gallagher, who works with people addicted to drugs and advised him on “some of the finer details” about addiction, recovery and healthcare.
Official figures published by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) showed there were 1,330 people who lost their lives to drug misuse in the country last year.
It is just nine fewer than the year before, as Scotland battles with the drugs-deaths crisis.
Scotland’s death rate remains the worst in Europe and is give times the rate of England.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Bridges described it as “frightening” to see the impact that drugs can have at a low-cost.
He also explained how comedians on the stand-up circuit when he came through as a teenager were protective of him.
“People find it surprising I never tried cocaine or ecstasy,” Bridges told the newspaper.
“I am the only person I know who never went through a phase like that. That was down to starting stand-up comedy so young.
“I was like a child on the circuit. People, other comics, were protective.”
He continued: “A lot of comedians enjoy smoking weed. When I started there was a lot of that going on.
“If you are with people who are stoned, people think it naturally makes you a bit funnier.
“I just get paranoid and freak out.”
Bridges recalled friends from school who had spiralled in the years since.
“No-one in my immediate family but friends definitely,” he said of whether he had lost someone to drugs.
“A couple of people from school fell by the wayside and a couple of people have been found dead, and those instances were drug-related.
“You see them 15 years on and realise how people can spiral. You go, ‘I remember you and me on a school trip, having a laugh when life seemed so exciting’.
“You feel that kind of guilt that my life went this way and theirs went that way.”
The stand-up indicated he can see the effects of a drug epidemic “with more people on the street than I have ever seen in my life before”.
And he underlined the flaw in the “terrible policy” of minimum alcohol pricing introduced at Holyrood.
“No one was ever going to say, ‘right, I can’t afford a bottle of cider so I will take up jogging’,” he said.
“People will obviously seek other alternatives in their budget to obliterate their trauma.
“I do not know the last time I passed a group on the street sharing a bottle of super-strength cider.
“They have turned to cheaper alternatives, synthetics and all sorts. I was told you can buy a ‘street Valium’ for 50p.
“If you see the effect you can get in terms of bang for your buck, if you want to annihilate your mind for the day, it looks as though it does the job.
“To me that is frightening.”
Bridges called for drugs to be decriminalised as part of efforts to tackle the problem.
He said: “When I read about a massive haul of drugs seized, I know that people will still be looking for cocaine and heroin and the drugs that made it in. They will be cut with whatever agent.
“You can’t just have supermarkets selling cocaine or heroin, I get that, but I do think drugs should be decriminalised.”
On his novel, the stand-up explained that he found time during the Covid-19 pandemic to write.
He joins other comedians to have published novels this year, including Frankie Boyle’s ‘Meantime’, and ‘The Satsuma Complex’ by Bob Mortimer.
“I resigned myself to the fact that live stand-up was gonna be a while away,” Bridges said.
“It was the first time in my life I felt, what am I going to do with myself?
“Suddenly, I had no outlet. I thought, at least it gives me somewhere to write my ideas.”
Addressing the characters in his novel, Bridges used some of his personal experiences when writing them into his story.
“Definitely there are elements of myself in the two characters Declan and James Cavani. I grew up in a similar town to Declan, with the same socio-economic problems,” he said.
“I was doing stand-up at night like Declan does creative writing classes. I felt a bit lost; where is my life going to go?
“Watching mates get into relationships and trades, I was still living with my parents… Only when I was 23, 24, did it happen for me.
“So a bit of me is in Declan wondering, is there ever going to happen? James Cavani has made it but… ends up bombed out, a bit jaded.
“After my 2015 tour I took a break from stand-up and TV, went to Spain and learnt Spanish, and that is when I found me as a person, if it does not sound not highfalutin.
“I thought, if I kept listening to producers and managers – go to America next, etc… I could end up jaded and resentful – like you see in elements of Cavani.
“Declan is where I could have been if things never went well for me, and James is where I could have ended up if I never changed gear.”