William Everest Ryan, 78, a former Justice Department trial attorney who was the first chief of the criminal division section that prosecutes crimes involving narcotics and other dangerous drugs, died May 28 at the Department of Veterans Affairs nursing home in Baltimore.

Mr. Ryan joined the Justice staff in 1957 and later was assigned to the fraud trial of Teamsters President James Hoffa.

In 1968 he was appointed by Attorney General Ramsey Clark to head a new section organized to deal with the country's growing drug-related crime. Until he left Justice in 1975, his work included the revision of laws dealing with narcotics and other drugs.

He was assistant inspector general of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1975 until he retired in 1977.

Mr. Ryan was a graduate of Marquette University in his native Milwaukee.

He received a law degree from Georgetown University.

He served in the Marine Corps in the Pacific during World War II and was recalled to Marine Corps duty in the Korean War. He retired from the reserves as a colonel in 1964.

Mr. Ryan lived in Silver Spring, where he was a member of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, and in Severn.

His wife of 48 years, Rosemary Ann Kelly Ryan, died in 1996.

Survivors include six children, Kathleen A. Ryan of Catonsville, Md., William Kelly Ryan and Patrick Edward Ryan, both of Silver Spring, Mary Frances Timm of Palm Harbor, Fla., Sheila Ryan Arrildt of Severn and Rebecca S. Doss of Salisbury, Md.; a sister; and 13 grandchildren.