In ZeroZeroZero, Italian investigative reporter Saviano probes the worldwide cocaine trade.

How was writing this book different from writing your exposé of Naples’s organized crime network in Gomorrah (2006)?

When I wrote Gomorrah, I was a free man—I could infiltrate dangerous territories without fear of being recognized or murdered. Once I was placed under police protection, everything changed, including the way I did my research. Being present in the field is still essential, but some of my key relationships now are with judges, policemen, former criminals turned collaborators, and witnesses. Everything is armor-plated now, and my writing is a reflection of this new reality.

Which book was harder to write?

ZeroZeroZero, because it is the product of years of life under armed guard, and when you’ve lost your freedom, there are moments when you feel like you’ve lost your life’s purpose, too.

What surprised you the most about researching today’s cocaine trade?

What still continues to shock me is how completely oblivious people can be, unaware that the world they live in is ruled by the laws of the cocaine trade.

What are the biggest public misconceptions about the cocaine trade?

That it somehow has nothing to do with us. Cocaine is a very particular drug, in that it isn’t just used by people who want to get high, but mainly by those with frenetic work schedules. Cocaine is the body’s fuel, and it is consumed by many more people than we think.

Is the drug war winnable? Were there mistakes made that doomed the cause?

The war can certainly be won, but only if we accept that the politics of repression have had their day. Prohibition has been a comprehensive failure, and is the main ally of criminal cartels.

What are the differences between countries like the U.S., England, and France—in terms of cocaine use and enforcement?

There are profound differences, of course. In the U.S., there are differences between one state and the next. This—the lack of a set of judicial regulations and shared laws that would allow investigators and law enforcers to work on a common platform—is really the fundamental problem. The plague of the narcotics trade is like a coca plant: it has its roots in South America, and its leaves cover the world. It cannot truly be fought without a shared understanding.

Are you hopeful that your journalism will bring positive change?

It already has. Gomorrah sold 10 million copies throughout the world and has been translated into more than 50 languages. This has placed organized crime in Naples and the camorra in the spotlight, and has increased the tools available to fight it. This is what literature is for: to raise awareness.