Opioid analgesics are essential in clinical practice, but their excessive use is associated with addiction risk. Increases in opioid prescription rates have fuelled an epidemic of opioid addiction in the USA, making statistics on medical opioid use a critical warning signal. A dramatic 150% increase in Swedish opioid access 2001-2013 was recently reported based on data from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB; Berterame et al. 2016) in conflict with other studies of opioid use in the Nordic countries. This article aims to analyse to what degree published INCB statistics on opioids in Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway and Sweden) reflect actual medical use and study the methodological reasons for putative discrepancies.