Prosecutors are trying to stop a Utah doctor from prescribing more pills, alleging he’s done more to fuel the opioid epidemic than end it

In this July 23, 2018, photo, newly-released inmate George Ballentine holds his prescription medicine Suboxone outside a pharmacy in Greenfield, Mass. While serving his sentence at the Franklin County Jail, Ballentine received a daily dose of buprenorphine (Suboxone) to control his heroin and opioid cravings. His doctor hopes to soon take him off the medication he'd been on for his last two months in jail. A Utah doctor was charged April 12, 2019, with unlawfully selling the pills. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

A Utah doctor has been charged with prescribing nearly 900 pills to undercover federal agents investigating him, and prosecutors have filed an injunction to stop him from prescribing more.

While Nick Carl Greenwood “holds himself out as a medical practitioner who operates the premier outpatient program for the treatment of opioid dependence in the Western United States," federal prosecutors wrote he is actually doing more to fuel and profit from the opioid epidemic than cure people.

Documents filed Friday in Utah’s U.S. District Court allege Greenwood knew his patients were selling the narcotics he prescribed them — the Schedule III drug buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone — and that they weren’t using the drugs to treat their addictions. Instead, patients were using the drugs to “lessen the effects of opioid use.”

Agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration began looking into Greenwood, who runs Greenwood Addiction Physicians in Murray, after the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office learned in April 2018 that an inmate in their jail was paying people to get pills through Greenwood, according to court documents.

Ultimately, the DEA sent three undercover agents to try to get pills from Greenwood. They visited him 20 times in total between June 28, 2018 and Feb. 21, coming away with 889 pills “without a legitimate medical purpose.”

The agents describe lax clinic protocols, saying Greenwood never physically examined them, reviewed their medical records or discussed a treatment plan. They also say Greenwood never tested the agents’ urine samples, which were taken before each visit.

Court documents show that during a Sept. 25, 2018 visit, one agent poured soda into the sample cup instead of urine and Greenwood either didn’t notice or didn’t say anything if he did.

The agent also talked about selling the prescribed pills. In one instance in July 2018, the agent said Greenwood walked him out of an examination room and gave the agent advice for how to profit from selling his pills.

The doctor allegedly told the agent to use less than the recommended dosage and sell the rest. In another visit in August 2019, Greenwood is reported to have told an agent that he believed 40% to 50% of patients illegally sold their pills — and that he was certain 25% did.

Agents also found that Greenwood accepted cash payments for prescriptions, which were often pre-signed and given out without Greenwood seeing patients, the court documents allege.

Federal prosecutors charged Greenwood with unlawfully prescribing controlled substances. He could be fined a maximum of $64,820 per violation for a total of $1,231,580.

Prosecutors are also asking a judge to approve a preliminary injunction against Greenwood, which would immediately prevent him from prescribing any more Schedule II and III drugs.

The injunction filing describes Greenwood’s alleged conduct as “significant," but cautions “it is likely just the tip of the iceberg.”

“Based on Dr. Greenwood’s comfort and fluency with the street price of buprenorphine and drug deals, and knowledge that his patients are illegally diverting prescriptions, he likely has previously engaged in — and will continue to engage in — similar illegal conduct,” prosecutors wrote. “There is every reason to believe illegal prescribing pervaded his customer population and will continue.”

Greenwood has 60 days to respond to the charges filed and 14 days to respond to the injunction, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said in a news release.

He did not immediately respond to The Salt Lake Tribune’s request for comment at his clinic. An email address associated with the clinic appears to no longer be active.