My housemate is dealing drugs
Marika Davies, a medicolegal adviser, gives advice on some common ethical dilemmas faced by medical students
- By: Marika Davies
My housemate is dealing drugs in our flat. He is not a medical student, so am I right in thinking that I don’t need to report him, as no patients are at risk?
You are in a worrying situation. Your housemate is engaging in criminal activity and, by doing so in your home, is putting you at risk. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 it is an offence not only to possess or supply a controlled substance, but also to allow premises you occupy to be used for the purpose of drug taking.
If the situation is discovered you are at risk: if there is any suspicion that by association you have been involved or have allowed the activity to take place, you could receive a conviction or caution from the police, and face a disciplinary or fitness to practise action by your university or medical school.
It is a personal matter for you whether or not to report your housemate to the university or the police, but in making this decision you must take into account that greater expectations are placed on you as a medical student, and that you risk damaging your future career.
Medical students are expected to exhibit a higher standard of behaviour in their professional and personal lives than students who are on courses that don’t directly lead to joining a profession. Any concerns about your fitness to practise could delay or prevent you from graduating, and must be declared to the General Medical Council when you come to apply for provisional registration on the medical register. The GMC would then carry out its own investigation into the concerns.
Adverse press coverage, including how this type of incident would be portrayed in the media, is also something to think about. The involvement of doctors or medical students in any criminal matter naturally makes a story more newsworthy, as the medical profession is held to higher standards of conduct in the eyes of the public and media.
There are various options open to you. You could take no action, but this would run the significant risk of the consequences outlined above if your housemate is caught and you were implicated in any way, even if you were not involved. You could of course talk to your housemate and ask him to stop what he is doing in your home, explaining the reasons why it is a more serious matter for you as a medical student. This would be a tricky conversation, and even if he agrees to stop you might not be confident that he has done so. You could also remove yourself from the situation by moving out of the property, although this may not be a practical option or something that could be done quickly.
You should consider speaking to your personal tutor about the difficult situation you are in, and seek their support and guidance on whether to report the matter. It is extremely difficult to report a friend to whom you may feel loyal, but you need to be able to show that you have acted with integrity and have done the right thing. Ultimately, you need to consider very carefully the risky situation you are in and the potential for damage to your reputation and career. There is a lot at stake for you, and you should take action promptly before your career is irretrievably damaged.Marika Davies, medicolegal adviser, Medical Protection
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
- Medical Schools Council, General Medical Council. Medical Students: Professional values. 2017. www.gmc-uk.org/Medical_students_professional_values_040815.pdf_62171989.pdf.
- Published: 09 October 2017
- DOI: 10.1136/sbmj.j3210