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After the murders, prescribing practices for powerful painkillers were tightened; all doctors who prescribe such medicines must now have a special license from the U.K.’s governing body for doctors.

But many patients say this restrictive approach to pain management unfairly denies them treatment.

Ian Semmons said he was left in agony for three years after breaking his back, shattering both ankles and suffering head injuries after trying to stop a robbery about two decades ago. “The National Health Service saved my life but neglected my pain,” he said, explaining he wasn’t given anything stronger than acetaminophen in the three years after his accident.

Semmons, who worked in human resources and risk management, was in such pain he often couldn’t walk, couldn’t work, and couldn’t play with his two-year-old daughter. “If I had been in the U.S., I would probably have received strong opioid drugs and been able to get on with my life much sooner,” he said.

It wasn’t until Semmons was referred to a specialist pain clinic three years after his accident that he got relief. There, he not only got opioid drugs, but acupuncture, physiotherapy and nerve stimulation. He also spoke to a psychologist whom he credits with reducing his reliance on medication.

These days, Semmons has learned to manage his pain with acetaminophen or the occasional use of diazepam, a muscle relaxant, or MST, a type of opioid drug. He was so frustrated with his experience being denied painkillers that he founded the advocacy group, Action on Pain, in 1998.

Some doctors said a better balance needs to be struck between relieving pain and avoiding the risks of using stronger drugs.

“To make it harder to prescribe enough painkillers for a patient in agony is wrong and essentially a form of torture,” said Dr. Michael Platt, lead clinician for pain services at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. “Either we need to treat the pain properly or we tell the patient they are just going to have to suffer.”