Minimum alcohol price could save lives, reduce hospital stays

- Amanda Farrell-Low

Sherk. Photo: Jonathan Woods

Minimum alcohol price could save lives and reduce healthcare burden

When governments create a minimum price for alcoholic drinks, deaths and hospital visits caused by alcohol fall significantly, according to research from the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) at the University of Victoria.

The new study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs and led by CISUR post-doctoral fellow Adam Sherk, found that a “minimum unit price” per standard drink would reduce deaths in one province by between six and 11.5 per cent, depending on the price that was implemented.

As we continue to weather the COVID-19 pandemic and hear concerns about overwhelming our hospitals, this study shows that a minimum unit price for alcohol would help to free up valuable resources by decreasing alcohol’s burden on our health care systems.
Adam Sherk, lead researcher and CISUR post-doctoral fellow

The study looked at data from Québec which, unlike some other Canadian provinces, does not have a comprehensive minimum unit price policy. Using the International Model of Alcohol Harms and Policies (InterMAHP) open-access modelling tool, which Sherk developed as part of his PhD thesis at UVic, the researchers were able to calculate the impact a minimum alcohol price would have on hospitalizations and deaths in the province.

For 2014, the most-recent data set available, it was estimated that 2,850 deaths and 24,694 hospital stays were caused by alcohol. If Québec instituted a minimum price of $1.50 per standard drink, 169 deaths would have been prevented, or nearly six per cent. If that was increased to $1.75 per standard drink, that number rose to 327 deaths, or 11.5 per cent. Hospitalizations would also fall; it was estimated that a $1.50 minimum price would decrease alcohol-related hospital visits by 8.4 per cent and the $1.75 price would mean 16.3 per cent fewer hospital stays.

Because a minimum-unit price only affects high-strength, low-cost beverages, only a small percentage of products are affected. This targeted approach is one reason why minimum-unit prices for alcohol are becoming increasingly common policies, with countries such as Scotland and Wales and jurisdictions like Australia’s Northern Territory having adopted the policy in recent years.

“This report adds to the growing body of evidence that minimum-unit pricing policies are an effective way for governments to save lives and reduce alcohol-related hospital visits,” says Sherk. “National and jurisdictional governments, including Québec, should consider following the lead of provinces such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba and implement these policies.”


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Keywords: research, CISUR, COVID, alcohol, health, administrative

People: Adam Sherk

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