Family fights for Tucson doctor to lose his license

Family fights for Tucson doctor to lose his license
White paper covers this placard at a medical office building in Tucson. (Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Verna Carrillo died only days after starting a new pain management prescription in March 2016.

Doctor Gregory J. Porter is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday, Feb. 21, before an administrative law judge for his treatment of her as a patient.

Carrillo's daughters said Porter was recommended by her insurance provider. She needed a new primary care doctor because Carrillo had just moved from Phoenix to Tucson.

She'd taken morphine for roughly nine years, according to her family. Loved ones said she was terrified to follow her new doctor's prescription of methadone without any sort of transition from one drug to the other.

"She was in so much pain that she was crying," said daughter Ginger Switzer. "Telling my sister 'I don't want to take this medicine, I'm afraid.'"

Several days later, Carrillo's youngest daughter found her unresponsive. After a call to 911, the family called Porter. They didn't know how their mother could have died.

Unsatisfied with his explanation, Carrillo's family filed a complaint with the Arizona Medical Board. They also paid for a forensic autopsy. It showed their mother died from mixed drug toxicity with cardiovascular disease as a contributing factor.

The state board heard these findings at meeting on May 4, 2017. Carrillo's family shared their frustration with board members. Porter shared his explanation for her treatment.

"If I could be so bold, none of you were there," he said during his five minutes to speak.

Porter said Carrillo was on too high of a dose of morphine and oxycodone. He described his concern for withdrawal symptoms in her, so he prescribed what he considered to be a dose of methadone less powerful than the treatment she was used to taking.

He said he advised his new patient to stop smoking and use the money saved on her thyroid medication, which she admitted to have stopped taking for financial reasons.

Porter, who had already been before the board in 2009 for prescribing what the state considered to be too high of a dose, was ordered to stop prescribing controlled substances altogether.

He didn't, according to a notice filed in 2018. It stated that a monitoring system noticed Porter continued to write prescriptions for controlled substances.

Carrillo's family said they were unaware of Porter's previous issues with the Arizona Medical Board, including a time he showed up at the hospital intoxicated in 2002 or when he attempted to remove a woman's tattoo in 1995 after meeting over a couple drinks at a bar in Tucson.

Now they hope he'll lose his license. If not, they're warning everyone to research doctors before its too late.

"They'll hear the name Gregory Porter and know that it's a huge red flag," said Switzer. "And that he shouldn't be practicing medicine."

Attempts to reach Porter at his now shuttered practice and a listed address have not been returned for comment.

Following the hearing on February 21, the judge will make a recommendation to the Arizona Medical Board within 30 days. It will be up to board members to follow the recommendation or make a decision on its own.

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