VICTORIA -- A recent study published by the University of Victoria (UVic) says that setting a minimum price for alcoholic drinks could lead to a reduction in alcohol-related deaths and hospital visits.

The study, headed by UVic post-doctor fellow Adam Sherk, found that setting a “minimum unit price” for drinks could reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths by six to 11.5 per cent.

Researchers examined data from Quebec from 2014, which is the most recent dataset available for deaths and hospital stays related to intoxication. The study found that in 2014, approximately 2,850 deaths and 24,694 hospital visits were recorded as a result of drinking alcohol.

By using a UVic-created modelling tool, researchers found that raising the minimum price of a “standard drink” – defined as 13.5 g ethanol, or pure alcohol, in Canada – at $1.50 would have reduced the number of deaths in Quebec by 169 in 2014, or approximately six per cent. The study also found that hospitalizations would have also declined by 8.4 per cent.

Similarly, if the minimum price were raised to $1.75, roughly 327 deaths would have been prevented and hospital visits would have fallen by approximately 16.3 per cent.

Researchers say that most alcoholic products already exceed this minimum price, and that the new minimum would only affect “high-strength, low-cost beverages.” According to Sherk, these types of products are the ones that are mostly commonly associated with “hazardous alcohol use.”

The modelling also showed that enacting a minimum unit price for standard drinks would benefit heavy drinkers, who demonstrated the largest decrease in consumption if the cost of low-price alcoholic options were raised.

Across Canada, alcohol led to 14,800 deaths and $14.6 billion in health-care costs, criminal justice costs and lost production in 2014, according to the study.

“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,” said Sherk.

The study notes that some jurisdictions have already introduced a minimum unit price for drinks both nationally and internationally, including in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Scotland, Wales and Australia’s Northern Territory.

“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,” said Sherk. “National and jurisdictional governments, including Québec, should consider following the lead of provinces such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba and implement these policies.”