Oral surgeon James Ryan charged with murder after police say he gave girlfriend anesthesia, saline bags and IV pole

“After moving in with Ryan, Sarah Harris developed and sank into a serious addiction involving multiple controlled dangerous substances provided by Ryan,” narcotics detectives asserted in court filings. They described his actions as “tantamount to an open supply” of drugs.

It was not clear from court records if Ryan has retained attorney. Family members of Ryan’s couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. He is expected to appear in court Wednesday.

Harris died eight weeks ago. Investigators quietly built their case through autopsy findings, interviews with Harris’s relatives and 10 months’ worth of text messages between Harris and Ryan.

“I feel so disoriented,” Harris texted Ryan on Sept. 28, according to court records.

“It’s the ketamine, the combo (with) maybe the neurontin,” Ryan responded, referring to both anesthesia and pain medication. “They have interactions. Is it hard to walk?”

“No,” Harris said, “just feel like I’m kinda floating.”

Recreational use, addiction and overdose from illicit use of anesthesia are rare compared with opiates and other drugs, but it does happen, according to medical literature.

The allegations against Ryan suggest he, too, used the drugs.

“I’m trying not to do so much, and type to nothing. Hard in this stupid area,” he wrote to Harris in a Sept. 7 text, according to court filings.

At work one day, detectives asserted in court filings, some of Ryan’s employees found him asleep in his office and needed ammonia smelling salts to wake him up.

In charging Ryan with “depraved heart” second-degree murder, authorities did not assert that Ryan premeditatedly killed Harris. They instead alleviate that as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon well-versed in anesthesia, he knew how dangerous the drugs were, knew of Harris’s deteriorating addicted condition, and showed “an extreme indifference” to her life by continually bringing her the drugs and setting up a home-delivery system.

Investigators also charged Ryan with reckless endangerment and a series of drug-related counts.

Harris is survived by her parents, two sisters and two grandparents, according to an obituary published last week in the Washington Times. The piece did not mention how she died, but stated that she was taken too soon: “No last farewell or final goodbye. She was gone before anyone knew it.”

“Sarah had a passion for learning, drawing, and spending time with her puppy Winston,” the obituary said. “She had a personality that would light up a room and she carried a radiant smile along with it. She marched to the beat of her own drum and was like no other. She loved proudly and passionately.”

Relatives had been growing concerned about her drug use since at least the summer of 2021, according to court records, when they noticed her wearing long sleeves at family gatherings despite very hot weather.

In October, court records state, two relatives went to Harris’s house where she “appeared to be in an altered state.” One of them forced her to roll up her sleeves, whereupon they saw both arms “covered with needle marks and bruises that were in various stages of healing.”

Ryan’s practice, Evolution Oral Surgery, operates from the third floor of a medical office building along Observation Drive in Germantown.

“Our philosophy really is treat patients the way that we want to be treated ourselves,” Ryan tells prospective patients in a video on firm’s website, adding, “I don’t think we do anything that’s above and beyond. I just think that every practice should do what we do. Connections and making a difference—that’s the point of everything. So it feels really good to be able to do that.”

Police and medics were called to Ryan’s house just before 7 am on Jan. 26 about an overdose. They tried to revive Harris but couldn’t, according to court records. Ryan told them that the night before, when he’d gone to bed, Harris was okay, but he awoke to find her unresponsive on a downstairs couch.

Narcotics investigators arrived and found two bottles containing residue of injectable propofol, four bottles with residue of injectable midazolam, and one bottle partially filled with injectable ketamine, according to court records.

“These bottles are not the type of medication that would normally be dispensed from a pharmacy, and are usually reserved for clinical, medical settings,” Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones told reporters Tuesday.

Investigators also found hypodermic needles, syringes and blue rubber tourniquets at the home. A medical examiner later ruled Harris’s death as “undetermined” and caused by ketamine and diazepam intoxication, according to court filings.

After the fatal overdose, one of Harris’s relatives was able to access her social media accounts and text messages between Harris and Ryan, police said. The relative put the exchanges in a binder, which investigators reviewed.

“The conversations are very frank and often depict Sarah Harris asking Ryan to procure/obtain different drugs,” detectives wrote in court filings.

Ryan, in turn, told Harris what drugs he was bringing home, what medical supplies — IV bags, needles, an IV pole — he was bringing home, and how to use the drugs, police said.

“I don’t think you’ll find a vein. I’m so dehydrated,” short documents say Harris wrote on Sept. 27, prompting the dentist to advise drinking water and taking a Xanax.

A day later, Harris texted Ryan to say she had a good night’s sleep but felt out of it.

“I think the ketamine works well for you,” Ryan wrote back, suggesting more water to get the drug out of her system.

At one point, Ryan appeared to instruct Harris to come to his office and retrieve medical supplies and drugs from the trunk of his car.

The two often discussed Harris’s confused state.

“We went to a hockey game last night and then went home,” Ryan wrote her in December. “You slept all night and every time you woke up you were sobbing. I couldn’t understand what you were saying because of the ketamine. I just hugged you.”

In an Instagram exchange Harris had with a close friend in December, investigators assert, she admitted to overdosing on ketamine recently but surviving.

“I’ve been in a bad place,” she wrote.

Still, investigators found no indication she wanted to kill herself, Jones said, and do not think that motivated the overdose.

“Family members — we’ve done a lot of interviews with them — they spoke to their loved one, Sarah, quite often before she actually passed away,” Jones said. “They gave no indication at all that Sarah was in any way interested in taking her life.”

Investigators said the 25-year-old had grown more and more dependent on the drugs.

“Sarah Harris developed an ever-worsening addiction,” they wrote in short papers, “that was continuously fed over the months by Ryan.”

Leave a Comment