After Montgomery Co. oral surgeon convicted in overdose death, victim’s family remembers their ‘shining star’

The family of a woman, who died of an overdose after being supplied with ketamine and propofol by her boyfriend in Montgomery County, Maryland, said she was so much more than a tragic headline.

Days after an oral surgeon was convicted of supplying 25-year-old Sarah Harris with the drugs that eventually killed her, Harris’ parents, sisters and grandparents stood with prosecutors in the lobby of the Montgomery County Circuit Courthouse to focus on the life of the young woman they called their “shining star.” They also thanked police and prosecutors for pursuing the case against 50-year-old James Ryan.

Ryan was Harris’ employer, then her boyfriend, “and ultimately also, her drug dealer,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy, who described how Harris came into Ryan’s orbit first as a patient, before dying in the Clarksburg apartment that the two shared in January 2022.

Harris’ father, Mark, told reporters that his daughter was not only a beauty queen, but that she excelled in languages. He read from her own notes about her passion for travel, culture and the arts. Quoting an entry from her journal, Harris read his daughter’s words, “My potential is immeasurable.”

McCarthy said that Harris had been given propofol, ketamine and diazepam — drugs normally not seen outside of a surgical suite.

In most drug overdose cases, McCarthy said the person who supplied the drugs to an overdose victim may not have any idea of what’s mixed in the narcotics they’re selling.

“The uniqueness of this case is that we have a defendant who was very knowledgeable about all of the drugs that he was distributing to Sarah and how vulnerable she could be to those drugs,” said James Dietrich, an Assistant State’s Attorney who worked on the case.

In January 2022, Harris was found dead on the floor of the apartment she shared with Ryan. She weighed just 83 pounds. On previous visits, family members noted drug vials and an IV pole were in the apartment.

Rachel Harris, Sarah’s older sister, spoke with strong emotions about her death, and she thanked the police and prosecutors for seeing past the circumstances.

“She wasn’t just chalked up to be another depressed addict who overdosed,” Harris said, referring to the crushing grief of her family. “We don’t have words for it,” she said, adding that they found comfort in that fact that “her story and her truth was heard.”

Mark Harris said the stigma around drug use and mental health needs to be addressed. By speaking to the media in the days after Ryan was convicted, he said his hope is that no other family has to suffer the way his family is suffering now.

Mark also told reporters that while it was gratifying to know the jury decided to convict Ryan, there were no winners in the courtroom on Friday, when the jury rendered its verdict. “We all lost something. Our family lost our beloved Sarah. James Ryan has lost his freedom, and his family will suffer for that.”

Ryan faces 55 years in prison for “depraved heart” murder and his sentencing is set for Nov. 7.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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