German drug maker Boehringer Ingelheim is defending its blood-thinner Pradaxa in the wake of reports that as many as 50 people have died because of the drug. Any blood thinning medication is potentially dangerous, but Pradaxa is under increased scrutiny for several reasons. It's only been available in the U.S. since 2010 and is much more expensive than its competitors.

Then there is the problem of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that showed prescription drug deaths in the U.S. were nearly 15,000 in 2008, the latest date such information is available.

The report is about painkillers specifically, but the increased spotlight on the astounding numbers of prescription pills in circulation also raises the question about how effective drugs like Pradaxa are. That's because drug companies often spend millions and millions on drug marketing, and that money could also be spent on research and clinical trials.

Boehringer defended its powerful blood thinner Pradaxa, saying the number of deaths from the drug is still less than predicted during testing, and that the drug likely saved thousands of people from having debilitating or deadly strokes.

Boehringer last week told doctors to conduct regular kidney tests in patients over 75 and in those with kidney conditions, the German newspaper Die Zeit reported. The CDC report also said there were more prescription painkiller deaths than there were from heroin and cocaine together. Additionally, American Indians, Whites and Alaskan Natives were the most likely to die from legal pain pills. Narcotic prescriptions quadrupled in the last decade as did the overdose death rate. States with the highest number of overdoses were New Mexico, West Virginia, Nevada, Utah and Alaska.

It turns out that just 3% of doctors are prescribing almost 70% of pain pills in the U.S. That's why some of those practices have been labeled pill mills.

Let us know in the comments if you live in one of the states listed above.