Biotech and Pharma

Doctor-turned-analyst says it was clear opioids were dangerously addictive, reacting to J&J ruling

Key Points
  • Cowen analyst Dr. Josh Jennings says he can't see how Johnson and Johnson or any  health-care company can say opioids weren't dangerously addictive.
  • "As a resident in 1998 to 2002, in my intern year, I knew opioids were addictive," says Jennings.
  • A judge in Oklahoma on Monday ruled that J&J must pay a $572 million fine. But that's much less than the billions the company faced.
Johnson & Johnson opioid ruling is a positive for shareholders, analyst says

Josh Jennings, a medical doctor turned Wall Street analyst, told CNBC on Tuesday he can't see how Johnson & Johnson or any other health-care company can say opioids weren't dangerously addictive.

"I don't think anyone in the health-care community can honestly look in the mirror and say opioids weren't addictive and it wasn't known clearly," Jennings said. "As a resident in 1998 to 2002, in my intern year, I knew opioids were addictive."

"In emergency rooms, 40% of my patients were coming in seeking opioids," Jennings added. "It's one of the reasons I left clinical medicine, actually."

After completing a residency in the Harvard/Massachusetts General Hospital Medicine-Pediatrics program, Jennings practiced as an attending physician at Mass General in the mid-2000s. He's now a senior research analyst covering the medical device sector at the financial services firm Cowen.

Jennings spoke to "Squawk Box" about Monday's landmark opioid ruling against Johnson & Johnson, in which an Oklahoma judge ordered J&J pay a $572 million fine. It was the first ruling in the U.S. that holds a drugmaker accountable for the opioid epidemic.

The ruling, which J&J intends to appeal, said the company and subsidiary Janssen repeatedly downplayed the risks of addiction to opioids. J&J said the decision in the case is "flawed" and that the state "failed to present evidence that the company's products or actions caused a public nuisance in Oklahoma."

J&J said in court that its marketing and promotion of pain medications were "appropriate and responsible." The company provided testimony from doctors and current and former employees who said the company's marketing practices were appropriate.

"This could be a catalyst for some deeper settlement talks," Jennings said, though he's not expecting one.

However, Jennings said it's a "relative positive" for the drugmaker, since investors were expecting the fine to be up to $5 billion. Oklahoma had sought more than $17 billion.

Immediately after the ruling, shares of other companies connected to opioids and facing litigation — Mallinckrodt, Teva Pharmaceutical and Endo International — rose in after-hours trading.

Purdue Pharma — the privately held maker of OxyContin, which has faced much of the blame for the nationwide crisis — and Teva each reached a settlement with Oklahoma before the trial started. Neither company admitted to any wrongdoing.

— CNBC's Berkeley Lovelace Jr. contributed to this report.