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Doctors supplement income via drug companies

Five local practitioners have received thousands working with a variety of firms.

February 18, 2011|By Melanie Hicken,

A cardiologist, endocrinologist, psychiatrist, nurse practitioner and allergist. These five medical professionals in Burbank and Glendale may have different specialties, but they have one source of income in common — drug companies.

Since 2009, 33 medical professionals in Burbank and Glendale have been paid roughly $500,000 by eight pharmaceutical companies for speaking engagements and other services, with nearly 70% of the cash spread among five practitioners, according to a database compiled by national investigative news organization ProPublica.

Eight drug companies have paid doctors across the country more than $320 million since 2009. Most doctors receive the paychecks for giving product lectures or pitching their colleagues in one-on-one meetings, sometimes over dinner at expensive restaurants. Others host teleconferences or provide consulting services.


Doctors and drug companies say the practice — which is legal and regulated by the Federal Drug Administration — helps spread valuable information about the treatment of diseases and medications.

Others in the medical community say the arrangements can raise ethical questions or affect patient trust.

Eric Campbell, an associate professor of health policy at Harvard Medical School, told the Chicago Tribune last year: “Let's be honest: The purpose of these talks is to influence doctors to buy a company's drugs.”

Drug companies have long guarded the compensation information. But in recent years a number of companies have begun to disclose the payments on their websites, some as part of legal settlements. More companies are expected to disclose payments this year, and federal law mandates that all drug and medical device manufacturers follow suit by 2013.

Topping the list locally was David Tonnemacher, a Glendale cardiologist who received $114,000 from GlaxoSmithKline, followed by Glendale psychiatrist Lukas Alexanian, who received $88,349 from Astra Zeneca and Eli Lilly.

Burbank nurse practitioner Phyllis Oreck received $58,205 from Eli Lilly. Burbank endocrinologist Minh Mach received $41,594, from Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline and Astra Zeneca. Glendale allergist Cassandra Mahan received $41,300 from GlaxoSmithKline.

With nearly 1,000 local doctors registered with the California Medical Board, the overwhelming majority were not listed in the database, although they could be included in future disclosures from other drug companies.

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