By Samir Kadri

Last updated: 10 June 2024 & medically reviewed by Dr. Jenni Jacobsen

Zaleplon is a hypnotic used to aid in the short-term management of insomnia and is a Schedule IV substance. It has been approved for use in the United States since 1999 and is widely used across the country.

Key takeaways:

  • Due to their psychoactive properties, calming effects, sedative effects, and relaxing nature, sleeping pills are among the most frequently abused prescription drugs.

  • Indiscriminately increasing your dosage of zaleplon, or upping the rate at which you take it, can lead to physical or mental dependence on the medication.

  • Being caught with a small quantity of unprescribed zaleplon may trigger a misdemeanor charge.

Why is zaleplon a controlled substance?

Zaleplon (Sonata®) is classified as a Schedule IV substance under the Controlled Substances Act.[1] Whilst this means that it has a low potential for abuse and low scope for physical or psychological dependence when compared with Schedule I, II, and III substances, it still presents a risk of addiction.[2]

People with underlying substance abuse disorders or mental health problems are at particular risk for developing zaleplon dependence.[2]

Whilst zaleplon is typically used as a sleeping pill, it can often be abused by people who enjoy using it for different purposes.[1] Due to their psychoactive properties, calming effects, sedative effects, and relaxing nature, sleeping pills are among the most frequently abused prescription drugs.[2] Teenagers and elderly people are the candidates most likely to abuse sleeping pills.[2]

If you are prescribed zaleplon, it is imperative that you take it as directed by your doctor. Indiscriminately increasing your dosage of zaleplon, or upping the rate at which you take it, can lead to physical or mental dependence on the medication.[3]

In the majority of cases, zaleplon should only be used for short periods of time - up to 2 weeks, and usually one or two days.[3]

Is it illegal to possess zaleplon without prescription?

Sleeping pills, including zaleplon, are available across the country via prescription from a licensed doctor. The vast majority of sleep medications, including zaleplon, are classified as schedule IV-controlled substances by the DEA, making them illegal to possess without a valid prescription.[2]

Possession of any controlled substance without a prescription is a criminal offense that carries severe legal implications.[2] Other offenses include the illegal use or distribution of zaleplon without a prescription, which can lead to state-level misdemeanor or felony charges.

Being caught with a small quantity of unprescribed zaleplon may trigger a misdemeanor charge. On the other hand, felony charges usually result from being found in possession of high amounts of unprescribed zaleplon, intent to distribute zaleplon without a license, prescription fraud, and being a repeat offender.[2]

Typically, the severity of the punishment is closely linked to the quantity of illegal zaleplon a person has in their possession, the way they obtained the substance, and whether they intend to sell it illegally.[2]

Being found guilty of a misdemeanor typically results in drug treatment, a small fine, probation, court-ordered supervision, and in some cases a stint in county jail.[2]

Felony convictions carry weightier consequences, with state prison sentences of up to 10 years a genuine possibility.[2]

Being caught trafficking sleeping pills subjects a person to federal charges and prosecution under the Federal Controlled Substance Act. Trafficking schedule IV-controlled substances, including zaleplon, is a federal felony. Perpetrators must pay mandatory penalties between $250,000 and $1,000,000 in court fines and a jail sentence of up to five years.[2] These forfeits are worsened for people with prior drug trafficking convictions.[2]