2022 | Police & Fire

UPDATED: Oral surgeon charged with murdering woman who overdosed on drugs he gave her, police say

Victim was former patient, had been in relationship with surgeon, according to police

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This story was updated at 7:55 p.m. on March 22, 2022, to include additional details

An oral surgeon has been charged with murder after a woman overdosed on drugs he gave her, police say.

Dr. James Ryan, 48, who has an oral surgery practice on Observation Drive in Germantown, was charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of Sarah Harris, 25, police said in a press release.

Harris was found dead in the 13900 block of Godwit Street in Clarksburg on Jan. 26, police said in a press release.

At the scene, officers found bottles of Propofol, Ketamine, Diasepam and Midazolam, Police Chief Marcus Jones told reporters on Tuesday. They also found hypodermic needles, syringes and tourniquets, he said.

Harris visited Ryan in 2020 for a medical procedure, Jones said. In October 2020, he hired her to work in his office as a surgical technician and the two began a relationship at the start of 2021, Jones said. Later in 2021, Harris started living with Ryan at his home in Clarksburg. 

Harris’s family noticed that her physical appearance started to change over time and she didn’t look healthy, Jones said. Twice, she was found in Ryan’s home with empty medicine bottles, used syringes and bloody clothing, Jones said.

“In at least one instance, she was discovered in an altered state and had arms that were covered in needle marks and bruises,” Jones said.

Harris and Ryan also had “frank and explicit conversations” by text message and other ways, in which Harris asked Ryan to get drugs from his practice, and Ryan told her he was bringing her the drugs, or told her where in the home she could find drugs, Jones said.

They also discussed Ryan bringing home medical equipment such as IV poles and needles either to help administer drugs, or to help her recover from them.

Jones said conversations between Harris and Ryan indicate that she might have overdosed in December and required CPR. However, investigators haven’t found a corresponding Fire & Rescue Service call, Jones said Tuesday.

Jones said the drugs found at the scene of Harris’s death are not typically sold in pharmacies, and are generally for clinical medical settings.

“None of these medications that we’ve discovered that were in her system would have been something that any patient would go to an oral surgeon and expect to get this type of medication,” he said.

Jones said Ryan was with Harris at the time of her death. He did not provide much information to authorities, he said.

“[He] didn’t give the indication that he had taken any responsibility for her death,” Jones said.

Police Chief Marcus, Jones, left, speaks to reporters on Tuesday. He was joined by State’s Attorney John McCarthy.

In response to a question about whether detectives are looking into whether Harris’s death was a physician-assisted suicide, Jones said there is no evidence of that.

“It gives me great concern that he did this with this patient that we were able to uncover. What concerns me is that this may not be the first time he’s ever done this,” Jones said.

Ryan was arrested Tuesday morning, police said. A voice-mail message that Bethesda Beat left for Ryan at his office was not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

Ryan has been charged with second-degree murder, reckless endangerment and multiple drug possession and distribution offenses, according to charging documents. He was ordered held without bond in District Court on Wednesday and has a preliminary hearing scheduled for April 15.

State’s Attorney John McCarthy said Tuesday that Ryan could face as much as 40 years in prison for the murder charge. He told Bethesda Beat that he couldn’t remember the last time a medical professional in Montgomery County was convicted of murder and said it’s not common.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com