Campus News

Pharmacy alum shines path of hope for people living with substance use disorder

Nick Wren was named CEO of Isaiah House in March 2023. Photo provided by Isaiah House.
Wren says support from College of Pharmacy faculty empowered him to excel throughout his academic journey all while juggling his responsibilities as a young, single father. Photo by Jessica Rukavina

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 13, 2023) — Isaiah House Treatment Center, a prominent nonprofit addiction treatment center in Central Kentucky, has emerged as a guiding light for individuals living with substance use disorder. With a mission to save lives, restore families and enhance communities, Isaiah House under the stewardship of Nick Wren, PharmD, a University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy (UKCOP) alumnus, has greatly expanded its reach and impact since he assumed the chief executive officer role in March 2023. 

Wren's journey to leadership at Isaiah House is a testament to his resilience and determination. As a young, single father, he joined the workforce after high school and eventually secured a position as a pharmacy technician in his hometown of Danville, Kentucky. In this role, he garnered mentorship from pharmacists, many of whom were fellow UKCOP alumni, setting him on the path to pursue higher education at the University of Kentucky. 

“In life, we rarely have the privilege to handle just one challenge at a time,” said Wren. “I was in pharmacy school raising a child and working long hours, but I had faculty support that helped me gain confidence and finish my degree.” 

Support from the college's faculty empowered Wren to excel throughout his academic journey. During this period, Wren cultivated significant mentorships, notably with David Burgess, PharmD, chair of Pharmacy Practice and Science, who played a pivotal role in shaping Wren's leadership aspirations. 

“I had the pleasure of working with Nick specifically on an academic leadership rotation during his final year of pharmacy school,” said Burgess. "Even then, Nick displayed a passion for leadership that I believed would serve him well in his future endeavors. His successful leadership journey doesn't surprise me in the least." 

Following graduation, Wren continued to make significant strides in the pharmacy field. He swiftly rose to the position of pharmacy manager and eventually assumed the market health and wellness director role, overseeing operations across 11 stores in south-central Kentucky. 

In 2021, Mark LaPalme, the former CEO of Isaiah House, sought Wren's advice on incorporating a pharmacy into the rehabilitation center. A few months later, Wren received a job offer from LaPalme. He began his position at Isaiah House as the vice president of strategic initiatives in January 2022. In this capacity, he focused on the organization's strategic growth and provided guidance to senior leadership during the expansion phase. 

Wren's path to assuming the CEO role unfolded organically, aligning his connection to Isaiah House's mission and his passion for serving others. 

Over the span of two decades, Isaiah House has undergone a remarkable evolution from a shelter for the unhoused to a comprehensive treatment center for substance use disorder. The organization's commitment to long-term treatment, holistic care and evidence-based practices has yielded transformative outcomes for countless individuals. With eight residential treatment centers and a burgeoning workforce, Isaiah House's impact is profound. Notably, 72% of Isaiah House's treatment graduates remain free from active addiction 180 days after completing their program.

Wren emphasized, "More than 50% of Isaiah House's staff are in active recovery. These individuals have built families, secured full-time employment and sustained sobriety for years. While statistics may not always capture this, I am privileged to witness success stories daily at work. This is what keeps my hope alive." 

Isaiah House currently encompasses four women's, four men's, and two outpatient centers. Under Wren's guidance, the center has expanded its capacity and offerings, recently launching a groundbreaking long-term program for women in August 2023, with further expansion plans in the works. 

Wren's advice to aspiring pharmacists and young professionals underscores his core values and lessons learned at UKCOP: integrity, perseverance, an unwavering commitment to excellence, and boldly leading innovation that improves health across the Commonwealth.  

“The University of Kentucky excels at bringing together motivated individuals who inspire one another. Persist through the challenges ahead," Wren urged. "Employers seek individuals of integrity. Upholding your integrity will set you apart." 

Isaiah House Treatment Center has catalyzed positive transformations in lives, families and communities. With a focus on sustained care, Isaiah House is at the forefront of substance use disorder treatment. 

As the organization looks ahead, Wren's leadership promises an enduring legacy of hope and healing. 

National Recovery Month is a national observance held every September to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices and the dedication of service providers and communities who make recovery in all its forms possible. 

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.