According to the 2005 Pain in Europe Survey, the use of opioids to treat patients with chronic noncancer pain varies considerably among different countries in Europe. Undertreatment of chronic pain is common. This review examines the possible causes and consequences of limiting opioid availability to these patients. The causes of inadequate opioid use include medical, ethical, and cultural factors that influence prescribing decisions; legislative and health care system controls that serve to restrict the use of opioids for long-term treatment of non-cancer-related pain conditions; and poor treatment acceptance by patients. The validity of these restrictions is discussed in relation to the need to protect patients and society from harm due to adverse events, and the potential for misuse and abuse with prescribed opioids. This is balanced against the therapeutic goal of providing the best available pain-relieving treatment and to avoid the consequences of unnecessary suffering in patients with chronic noncancer pain.